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Mair makes next step

Adam Mair loves physical hockey. He's finally getting another chance to show it.

Mair was cleared for full-contact practices Tuesday, one day after tests in Pittsburgh showed he no longer has aftereffects from his major concussion suffered Jan. 12.

"The preliminary stuff came back and it was all positive," the Buffalo Sabres forward said. "It's just a case of moving on, step-by-step. The next step involves working through some contact in practice -- when you have a guy's hand on you, and you have to fight through checks, get bounced off the boards. It's a different type of conditioning. No matter how much you skate, the muscles are always sore from the banging. There is a little bit of an adjustment period there."

Mair was hospitalized twice and has missed 28 games since getting injured against Phoenix in January. He's been skating for a few weeks but hadn't been cleared for contact because of inconsistencies in his testing. Six hours with doctors in Pittsburgh showed he was fine.

There is no timetable for his return to games.

"When [the coaches] feel like I'm ready to go full bore and contribute to the winning efforts of this team, they're going to put me in," Mair said. "I know that they have confidence in me."

Mair has two goals, five assists and 45 penalty minutes in 37 games this season.

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A chat with coach Lindy Ruff did wonders for Thomas Vanek last week. It's time to find out what happens when his whole line has a sitdown with the coaching staff.

The Sabres had a team meeting at 11 a.m. Tuesday, and players went on the ice at 11:25. But the line of Vanek, center Derek Roy and right wing Maxim Afinogenov didn't join them until nearly noon. They were meeting with assistant coach Scott Arniel to go over their puck possession in Monday's 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.

"They've got to know that we're going to be in some awful tight games, and one giveaway -- one unforced giveaway in your own end where you have possession and you decide to give it away -- that could be the game," Ruff said.

The trio's last shift together came with 10 minutes left in regulation. Vanek didn't play again, while Afinogenov received only two shifts in overtime. In addition to the turnover, their absence can also be attributed to the Sabres' need to kill three penalties in final 10 minutes. Vanek and Afinogenov don't kill penalties, while Roy, who does, kept playing.

"There were a lot of penalties, and Max and I don't kill so we were out of the flow and stuff," Vanek said. "But that's not an excuse. I think we should have been playing better. We just didn't play as well as we can."

Vanek had playing time taken away twice last week, then after meeting with Ruff scored once and had several near-misses against Carolina.

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Left wing Jochen Hecht still has a sore right medial collateral ligament and hasn't been cleared for contact. He may not play this week. Center Tim Connolly is still day-to-day with a sore left MCL.

"As soon as that last little bit of pain or whatever he's feeling leaves, he's gonna play," Ruff said.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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