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Look for Afinogenov in tonight's lineup

Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff on Wednesday said winger Maxim Afinogenov is closer to returning to the lineup than center Tim Connolly is.

How does tonight sound?

Ruff revealed Afinogenov might be available for all three of the Sabres' remaining games, including tonight's regular-season home finale against the Boston Bruins in HSBC Arena.

"Max is a possibility for all three," Ruff said.

Afinogenov, last season's team scoring leader, has missed the past 21 games with a broken left wrist. In 53 games this season, the speedy Russian has 23 goals and 34 assists. His points-per-game average of 1.08 is second only to center Daniel Briere, who's working on a 100-point campaign.

Connolly, meanwhile, has let it be known he's ready to return. Connolly hasn't played since suffering a concussion in the second round of the playoffs last spring. He has been rehabilitating from a stress fracture in his right leg.

"He's made his decision. He thinks he can play," Ruff said of Connolly. "The decision now is 'Do we have him at a good enough level?' He's practicing at maybe 80 percent right now."

Ruff was non-committal on Connolly's prospects but indicated Saturday afternoon against the Washington Capitals would be the soonest the playmaker could dress.

"I would like to put him inside some of those drills and utilize him in a situation we'd utilize him in a game, and that would probably have to happen on Friday," Ruff said. "Then we'll evaluate whether [Connolly] is going to be effective."

Connolly's introduction into the lineup appears trickier than it would be for Afinogenov.

Connolly is operating at less than full capacity and would be limited to little more than special teams duty, while Afinogenov has been able to skate hard for weeks and should be able to handle a regular shift.

"If you're taking a good player out of the lineup to put a role guy in or maybe a special teams guy whether that's going to be effective enough for the team," Ruff said, "That all weighs into it."

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Known as a solid two-way player throughout his seven-plus NHL seasons, Sabres winger Jochen Hecht is a little bothered that he has never scored 20 goals. With three games left he has 19 goals, matching the career-high he set in 72 games with the St. Louis Blues in 2000-01. He scored 18 goals in 64 games for the Sabres last season.

Hecht skated on the last two power plays in Tuesday night's 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ruff did so specifically to help Hecht hit that elusive milestone.

"It would be nice to get it," said Hecht, whose 37 assists rank fifth on the team. "I've been close once and never happened. I've had a lot of injuries in years before where I probably would have gotten it.

"It would be nice, but we're having a good year. Me getting 20 goals is not important to playing good and reaching our goal."

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Maybe in helping Hecht net his 20th goal, linemate Briere will have a better shot at reaching 100 points.

Briere has been on a point-producing ripper, and is five points away from reaching 100. He had two assists in Pittsburgh.

Briere's right winger, Jason Pominville, said a 100-point season would be a source of pride for the line.

"It's definitely something I'd be happy about," Pominville said. "He sure deserves it. He's worked hard all season. To end up so close would be kind of disappointing, but hopefully we can get it in these last three games."

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An auction of 38 game-worn All-Star jerseys, including those of Sabres Ryan Miller, Brian Campbell and Briere, went up for bids Wednesday night at www.nhl.com and www.nhlpa.com. The auction will run through 9 p.m. on April 18. Proceeds for the auction will go to Hockey Fights Cancer.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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