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Tallinder could play in Columbus tonight

Henrik Tallinder really doesn't know if he's ready to play. He still feels pain in his sprained right ankle, but he was able to keep up with his Buffalo Sabres teammates during Thursday's practice. He figures the only way he can determine if he's game-ready is by playing in a game.

There's a 50-50 chance he'll do that tonight.

Tallinder joined his teammates on the flight to Columbus for tonight's game against the Blue Jackets in Nationwide Arena. Tallinder looked good Thursday during the hourlong skate at the Amherst Pepsi Center, but the first post-All-Star break practice is a world away from an NHL game.

"I feel pretty good. I can't lie to you, I don't feel great," Tallinder said. "Do I feel good enough to play? We'll see [tonight]."

The defenseman has been out since spraining his ankle against Ottawa on Jan. 3. Thursday was his first full practice with the team.

"I can feel it sometimes when I'm out there, but I guess I'm going to feel that for a while," he said. "You have to try it out. It's really hard to say. It goes so quick out there, it goes so fast. Practice? Yeah, I feel good enough to practice. Does it feel good enough for a game? I don't know. We'll have to try it, I guess."

The Sabres may give Tallinder another day to rest and use him Saturday when they travel to New York to play the Islanders. But that might give the defenseman bad flashbacks. During the Sabres' first game on Long Island this season, Tallinder broke his forearm.

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Left wing Jochen Hecht, sidelined since suffering a lower-body injury Jan. 15 in Boston, will be in the lineup against Columbus.

"I'm feeling very good, and it looks like I can play," Hecht said.

Forward Jiri Novotny, who sprained his ankle Saturday in Montreal, did not practice. He participated in off-ice workouts but isn't expected to play. There was no word on who the Sabres would call up from Rochester to replace him. Daniel Paille, Drew Stafford and Clarke MacArthur were all sent back to the Amerks during the break.

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The Sabres' All-Stars -- coach Lindy Ruff, forward Daniel Briere, goaltender Ryan Miller and defenseman Brian Campbell -- traveled from Dallas directly to Columbus. Associate coach Brian McCutcheon and assistant coach James Patrick led Thursday's practice.

Briere and his new truck, awarded for being the All-Star Game MVP, were the talk of the dressing room back in Buffalo.

"For him to go there and play as well as he did, and be able to come back with a truck, it's huge," linemate Jason Pominville said.

The keys to the truck almost went elsewhere. Briere narrowly defeated Colorado's Joe Sakic in the voting by the writers, and Columbus' Rick Nash also received consideration. Briere had five points in a losing effort, while Sakic and Nash had four each for the winning Western Conference.

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The Sabres and Blue Jackets are hoping to start the final stretch of the season better than they finished the first. The Sabres won only two of six games leading up to the All-Star break, while Columbus won just two of seven.

But the Blue Jackets have been much better at home since hiring coach Ken Hitchcock. The former Philadelphia Flyers boss is 7-3-1 in Nationwide Arena, and Columbus is averaging 3.72 goals per home game.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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