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HASEK EXPECTED TO FACE DUCKS TONIGHT

Dominik Hasek is expected to start tonight for the Buffalo Sabres when they face the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in Marine Midland Arena.

Coach Lindy Ruff confirmed this morning that the goaltender would be in uniform tonight (7:05, Empire, 104.1 FM) but would not say if Hasek would start.

"He's dressing tonight," is all Ruff would say.

Hasek was not made available for comment this morning but all signs point to him starting tonight.

Goaltenders Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson took shots after this morning's skate, a common practice for players not expected to start that night.

Also, it's unlikely Hasek would be activated from the injured reserve list if he wasn't going to play.

Hasek has responded well to workouts and said Monday he has told the team's coaches he is ready to return after missing more than three months with a severe groin injury.

"Dom has had a lot of good workouts, from the 45-minute session from the guy who is training him to the half-hour he gets before (the team practice)," said Ruff on Monday. "He had a session Sunday for another hour. He went through the practice today. His workload is almost normal now."

"I think I have medical clearance," Hasek said. "If they let me practice the whole practice, I think from a medical point I can play a whole game. The doctor said I could practice hard."

Hasek suffered the injury during an Oct. 29 home game against Florida. He has been suffering from groin injuries for most of the past year.

Hasek missed about a month of play last season, and the injury bothered him through the end of the playoffs. The goalie had offseason surgery to fix a hernia, and eased into the regular season.

While Hasek is ready to participate in games again, he made it clear he is not pain-free.

"I have lots of pain. You can't imagine how much pain I've had in the last year of hockey," he said. "Everything I do on the ice, every save I make, causes pain. It's the way it is. It's not fun, but I just want to go on the ice. I want to do my job. I believe I can do it."

Hasek doubts additional rest would improve his condition.

"I don't think two, three, four more weeks would be helpful," he said. "I feel better than one month ago, or two or three weeks ago. It was a very painful injury."

Hasek's imminent return raises a pair of side issues. There is space on the roster for Hasek, but that would give the team three goalies -- one more than normal. If Hasek plays regularly, Biron would become the second-stringer unless Biron is assigned to Rochester. If Biron stays in Buffalo, Roloson moves to third string.

"We're going to take it one game at a time," Ruff said. "If Dom is playing, we have to get Marty some playing time too. Marty is the one guy who can go down (to Rochester) and play (without having to clear waivers). Dwayne can be a back-up (if that happens). We need all three guys ready to go."

Hasek still is scheduled to start for the World team in Sunday's NHL All-Star Game in Toronto. He'll see how he feels before deciding whether to play.

"I don't have any deadline," he said. "All I want is to play for the Sabres. I haven't thought about the All-Star Game for the last few days. All I want is to play and help the team. We'll see if I'm able to help the team. I don't want to be there just to be there."

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