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Sabres notebook / Connolly: No jumping during hit

Ten days after a controversial collision put his season on hold, Buffalo Sabres center Tim Connolly finally watched the replay. Still, he doesn't have a whole lot to say about it.

When it comes to the damaging hip check delivered by New York Rangers defenseman Darius Kasparaitis, Connolly will let his teammates do the talking.

"I don't really have a comment on it," Connolly said Friday afternoon in the Amherst Pepsi Center. "Everybody can make their own opinion on it."

Several of his teammates made their feelings public. Co-captain Chris Drury, winger Mike Grier and coach Lindy Ruff vociferously objected to the hit. It might have been clean, but many felt it was gratuitous.

Connolly, however, did want to clear up one aspect of the play in which Kasparaitis used his backside to pin Connolly along the boards. Some blamed Connolly for the injury because it looked like he leaped to avoid it, making his knee vulnerable.

"I'm 100 percent sure I didn't jump," Connolly said. "I just saw the replay for the first time, and I actually had my knees bent and was lower to the ice when I was hit. If you stop [the replay] right when he was hitting me, I had my knees like this." Connolly spread his legs to shoulder-width and bent at the knee. "Then I fell forward. There was no attempt to jump."

Regardless, Connolly has tried to block out the bitterness of being sidelined roughly six weeks. When he went down he was tied for the team scoring lead.

"I've been trying to stay as positive as possible," he said. "It's tough when things are going well and the team's playing well. I've been happy with my play. I feel like I finally got to that level where I can be that type of player."

***

Daniel Briere is performing so well in practice, Ruff said the center could be cleared for contact drills by Sunday. Briere, recovering from sports hernia surgery, still won't be available until after the Olympic break.

Winger Maxim Afinogenov missed Friday's practice in the Amherst Pepsi Center because of a tight groin. He's expected to dress for tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators in HSBC Arena.

***

Vaclav Varada has known for a long time how awesome Dominik Hasek can be. Both hail from the Czech Republic, were Sabres teammates for parts of six seasons and are together in Ottawa.

So is the 41-year-old Hasek as good as the one from Buffalo?

"He's still flexible as hell," Varada replied.

The agitating winger also descried how much looser Hasek has been in Ottawa.

"He's more relaxed, maybe because he's won it all," Varada said, referring to the Stanley Cup Hasek hoisted with Detroit. "Before he was the main star of the team and everything was 'Dom, Dom, Dom.' There was too much pressure on him. Now we have such a good team, and there are a lot of guys you can look up to."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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