BUFFALO, N.Y. – Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has left the decision with leading scorer Thomas Vanek to determine whether his sore left ankle is strong enough to play in Game 6 of the team’s first-round playoff series at Boston on Monday.
“He’s close now. It’s his decision whether he can play or not,” Ruff said Sunday after Vanek took part in his second straight day of practice after missing the past three games. “If he knocks on my door tomorrow and says, ‘I’m ready,’ he’s playing.”
The Sabres are coming off a 4-1 win on Friday, which cut the Bruins lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Vanek said he feels ready to play, but noted that his ankle is still sore. Speaking in the locker-room before Ruff made his comments, Vanek said the decision to play was up to his coach.
“I feel like I can go, but you’ve got to be smart and realistic about it,” Vanek said. “But it’s up to Lindy to make that decision.”
Vanek skated strong, and showed little sign of the injury as he was capable of pushing off his left foot from a stopped start. Vanek, however, walked with a noticeable limp in the locker-room as he left the arena wearing cowboy boots.
The winger led Buffalo with 28 goals in the regular season, scoring five of them in the team’s last two regular-season games after Vanek missed six with a groin injury.
He had a goal and assist in the first two playoff games before getting hurt in the first period of Game 2. That’s when he crashed awkwardly into the end boards after being chopped down from behind by Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk.
Vanek spent an hour skating with Sabres minor-league call-ups at a suburban Buffalo rink on Saturday. He took part in the full 40-minute team session on Sunday, and even had time working on the power-play unit.
Ruff liked what he saw.
“He’s progressing. He’s starting to feel pretty good,” Ruff said. “So tomorrow will be an important day for him.”