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Connolly's recovery picks up a bit of steam

Tim Connolly's ongoing rehabilitation is helping him gradually intensify his activity level, but Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said there hasn't been enough improvement to establish a timetable for the playmaking center's return.

"We just hope he keeps progressing to where he feels like he can get back on the ice," Ruff said. "There still has been no weight training or anything of that nature. It's just been heart rate and bike and monitoring blood pressure."

Connolly has been unable to play since suffering a concussion eight months ago in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Sabres signed him to a three-year, $8.7 million contract over the summer and hoped he would be back by now.

Connolly has been following an innovative post-concussion management program created by Barry Willer and John Leddy of the University at Buffalo.

While treatment for post-concussion syndrome generally involves rest and antidepressant medication, the Willer-Leddy program consists of regular, stationary bike workouts just below the patient's exercise threshold that would induce such symptoms as headaches and nausea.

The program's intention was to limit atrophy and help patients bounce back quicker once cleared to resume full physical activity. But Willer and Leddy discovered steady exercise raised a patient's threshold and might hasten a full recovery.

Ruff said Connolly has upped his bike rides to about 20 minutes, and along the way has encountered "some light [headaches]. Whether they're associated with the concussion or not is still a question."

"His workouts are getting longer and he's maintaining a higher and higher heart rate," Ruff added. "Things, as far as I understand, have gone good. . . . He feels like he's making some headway. We're just going to try to stay down that road with him."

Connolly has been around HSBC Arena and has avoided talking to reporters. He skated before Christmas, but Ruff indicated that wasn't symbolic of a speedy recovery.

"He could come and go for a little skate every day. That's not a breakthrough," Ruff said. "The reason he's on his bike is he's getting specialized care with it. They want to see what the blood pressure is doing and everything else. If you're skating around, that's a lot tougher to do. It's tough to monitor that."

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Co-captain Chris Drury and defenseman Dmitri Kalinin were held out of Friday's practice at the Amherst Pepsi Center with nagging injuries. Both are expected to play tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the arena.

Drury took a shot to the leg in Wednesday's win over the Chicago Blackhawks, and although he skated in Thursday's loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, he's sore. Kalinin has been nursing a strained groin.

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Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who will miss his fifth game with a high ankle sprain, has yet to skate since he suffered the injury Jan. 3. The Sabres initially said he would be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. Ruff indicated Tallinder's return isn't imminent.

"The ankle is a tough injury," Ruff said. "He's frustrated. Some days he feels a little bit better. Some days it's still fairly sore.

"I think he was hoping it would be [healing] faster, but it isn't. . . . Instead of looking ahead one or two days, we're looking a little bit longer than that."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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