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Ruff not sure if Connolly's ready

Buffalo Sabres center Tim Connolly has proclaimed to the coaching staff he's ready to play.

It's foreseeable doctors will clear him to return for Saturday's road game against the Washington Capitals.

That doesn't mean Sabres coach Lindy Ruff will feel comfortable enough to use the itchy triggerman.

"A doctor can clear him to play, but let's be realistic," Ruff said Thursday before the Sabres played the Boston Bruins in HSBC Arena. "The conditioning part could be an issue."

Everybody knows Connolly's medical history by now. He hasn't played for 11 months, his status vacillating between encouraging to demoralizing sometimes on a daily basis.

Now that the Baldwinsville native is tantalizingly close to making his long-awaited return, the Sabres indicated they would be cautious in re-inserting him.

"The overall question still is conditioning," Ruff said. "There's nothing else. He hasn't played in [11 months]. You can try to simulate some game situations, but the reality is you could get in the game and that pace could be too quick.

"If we're in a situation where we're playing him on special teams and he gets in a footrace on a turnover, can he match the pace of the guy he's going against or will it cost us? Those are the little things we're trying to evaluate."

Connolly went through an off-ice workout Thursday. Ruff's plan today is to put Connolly through a physical practice with game-like conditions.

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Connolly's return this weekend -- on the heels of winger Maxim Afinogenov playing Thursday night for the first time in 22 games -- would put the Sabres over the salary cap and forced them to demote rookie wingers Drew Stafford and Clarke MacArthur to the minors.

But Stafford wouldn't be gone for long. There is no salary cap in the postseason, meaning the Sabres could recall him Monday. He has been skating with center Derek Roy and leading goal scorer Thomas Vanek on a line that also serves as the second power-play unit.

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Although the NHL won't set the playoff schedule until the matchups have been decided, the logical layout would have the Sabres staging Game One of their first-round series next Thursday and Game Two the following Saturday. HSBC Arena already is spoken for next Friday with a Buffalo Bandits game.

That setup also would allow the Sabres to host Game Five on April 20, which is a Friday. A John Mayer concert will take place in HSBC Arena on April 21.

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The NHL standings suggest the Sabres have scored more than 300 goals for the 10th time in franchise history, but in actuality their players have netted only 293. Their total listed in the standings includes 10 "team goals" awarded for each shootout victory.

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There's more reward than home-ice advantage for the winner of the President's Trophy, which goes to the team that finishes the regular season with the best record.

Of the $6.5 million prize pool the NHL sets aside for the season, $250,000 goes to the players who win the President's Trophy.

The figure is based on 25 shares at $10,000 apiece.

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The Sabres will bring back their Party in the Plaza events for the playoffs. The festivities, held near the HSBC Arena parking ramp under the large team photo, were popular last spring.

Parties begin 2 1/2 hours before each game. They're free, and fans don't need a game ticket.

They feature live music, special appearances and a large monitor for those not attending the game to stick around and watch with other fans.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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