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Gaustad's return not imminent

Paul Gaustad is getting better every day. Lindy Ruff said Sunday that shouldn't be confused with him playing any time soon.

The Buffalo Sabres center has been steadily improving from the severed ankle tendon he suffered in February. Still, his head coach diminished fans' hopes of having Gaustad ready for the second-round playoff series with the New York Rangers.

"I don't expect him in the near future, but he's doing great," Ruff said after practice in the Amherst Pepsi Center. "He's progressing. He still hasn't taken part in any type of meaningful . . . he's out there at a skating pace that's probably three-quarters of what he can do. He's done no hard work.

"I'll say it again. He's getting a lot better. He's ahead of schedule. Where that puts him, I still don't know."

Gaustad has been skating with the Sabres for about a week, and he took part in the early portion of Sunday's skate. He said the next step is stretching the tendon and improving his range of motion.

The Sabres had four lines that were effective in the opening-round win over the New York Islanders, so it might be tough for Ruff to pull anyone out of the lineup for Gaustad. The 6-foot-5, 222-pounder is a good faceoff man, however, and he had nine goals and 13 assists in 54 games during the regular season.

"We'll find a place for him when he's ready," Ruff said.

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The Sabres had an All-Star goaltender at one end of the rink Sunday and someone who looked nothing like an All-Star at the other.

Ryan Miller was in his usual crease stopping pucks, but he was staring across the ice at goaltending coach Jim Corsi rather than backup netminder Ty Conklin. Conklin has been excused for personal reasons.

"They're having a baby, that family, so we gave him a couple days," said Ruff, who expects Conklin back in town tonight. "It's pretty well perfect timing."

Corsi was a professional goaltender in the late 1970s, but he obviously is past his prime.

"He was awful," Ruff said. "But you know what? In some sense it's good because our shooters felt pretty good about themselves."

To Corsi's credit, he took his assignment seriously. Ruff ended the practice with short sprints, determining whose turn it was by barking out commands such as, "Whoever scored last game," or, "Whoever was plus-4 last game." Corsi skated when Ruff shouted, "Whoever didn't play last game."

***

Co-captain Daniel Briere used a zinger to put the exclamation point on the series with the Islanders.

"Pretty much the whole series they just sat back and they didn't take many chances," Briere said. "They would only go with one or two forwards in our zone. The other one would be way up high and wouldn't risk anything. So I think at some point we just kind of thought, 'You know what? They're not very dangerous offensively.'

"In that third period [of Game Five] after we made it 4-1, they just started attacking. . . . I think they caught us by surprise a little bit."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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