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Bionic Tallinder close to returning

It will take a colossal hit or an unrelenting slap shot to break Henrik Tallinder's forearm a third time. The Buffalo Sabres defenseman had a metal plate inserted in his left arm, and he'll be wearing a brace on top of that for further protection.

"It's supposed to be stronger," Tallinder said Monday. "It could happen [again], but it shouldn't."

Tallinder is putting his full faith in those shields for a simple reason. He can't go through the agony and annoyance of another two-month rehabilitation. It was bad enough the first time last spring. This fall, it's been pure torture.

But it's almost over. Tallinder practiced with his teammates Monday for the first time since getting hurt Oct. 26. He'll spend a week getting his timing and his shot back, then he'll likely rejoin the lineup next Tuesday when the Sabres host Washington.

"I'm pretty much ready to go," Tallinder said. "I don't feel it. I'm ready to go do whatever it takes. Everything feels good."

Tallinder is in peak shape. He's been skating since a couple of weeks after the injury, and the Sabres worked him hard. He'll be working just as diligently on his shooting and puck movement this week, but at least he's working with his teammates rather than alone.

"It's a little bit different when you practice with the team. You have to have more timing," he said. "When you go by yourself you just go at your own pace."

Tallinder broke the arm in May during the Eastern Conference finals against Carolina. It cracked again when he was checked by the New York Islanders' Trent Hunter.

"When I finally found out the day after, I was devastated," Tallinder said. "We don't want to reinjure it a third time. We've been a little bit cautious about it. It's been frustrating."

***

The Sabres welcome the Montreal Canadiens to HSBC Arena tonight, and it would be wise for fans to bank on staying late. The teams have met four times this season, and only one game was decided in regulation.

The Sabres are 3-0-1 against the Habs, with two victories coming via shootouts. Montreal's victory came with one second remaining in overtime.

The Canadiens are 4-0-1 in their past five games, including a 3-2 shootout loss to the Sabres on Dec. 9. They've moved into second place in the Northeast Division, seven points behind the Sabres.

"You look at the standings, in that sense it's a big game," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It pushes them further back in the standings, or I think they'll be looking at the game that, 'If we can win this one head-to-head, it's an opportunity to really close the gap.' "

***

The Sabres' day off Sunday was beneficial for two reasons. One, it gave the players' bodies a break. Two, it gave them one day in which no one questioned their power play.

The Sabres are 5 for their last 56 with the man advantage. They went just 1 for 6 in Saturday's 3-1 loss to Ottawa, and their rating actually increased from 8 percent to 8.9 percent during the 10-game slump.

"It got pretty low for us," co-captain Daniel Briere said. "We were pretty frustrated. Last game, for the first time, we felt like we were moving the puck the way we used to. It felt really good, finally."

***

It's a long way from becoming reality, but there's a chance the Sabres could play an outdoor game on New Year's Day 2008.

The Toronto Sun reports that the Maple Leafs are finalizing plans to host an outdoor game a year from now. Edmonton and Montreal played outside in Alberta in 2003, and the Leafs want to attract attention to Toronto's new soccer stadium, 20,000-seat BMO Field.

"If we go to that trouble, we'd want to make a real event out of it, have some things leading into the game and something leading out," Richard Peddie, president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, told the paper. "Of course, we'd also have to decide on who we'd want to play."

The paper suggested the Sabres, Canadiens, Senators and Detroit Red Wings because their fans are within driving distance and would help boost attendance.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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