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Spacek, Hecht set to return to the lineup

It didn't take long for Jaroslav Spacek to get sick of extra skating. So after two games out of the lineup, he's going back in. He's bringing Jochen Hecht with him.

The Buffalo Sabres are getting twice as healthy for one of their biggest games of the season, as the two veterans will return to the lineup for tonight's meeting with the Montreal Canadiens.

Spacek has missed the past two games with a hip injury. Hecht also sat out the last two after getting dizzy following a hit in Phoenix on Saturday. They practiced fully Thursday in HSBC Arena and pronounced themselves ready to play tonight.

"It's still a little bit sore and will be sore for a while, but it's not as bad as it was before," said Spacek, who was injured when he leveled Enver Lisin and the Coyote forward's stick broke across Spacek's hip.

Injured players usually skate the most during Sabres' practices, staying on the ice long after their healthy brethren have departed, and the 34-year-old defenseman joked he's had enough of that.

"I don't want to skate anymore. I just want to play," he said with a grin. "I feel good, and that's the main reason I want to come back."

Hecht said he felt good after two days of skating and a bike ride mixed in. The left winger knows he's coming back at an important time. The seventh-place Sabres have 59 points, and they can make a statement by beating the fourth-place Canadiens, who have 64 points.

"They're right in front of us. It's so close," Hecht said. "Playing somebody that's right in front of us, it's a big four-point game."

Hecht practice on a line with center Clarke MacArthur and right wing Patrick Kaleta.

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Right wing Maxim Afinogenov skated on his own prior to practice. He has been out since Jan. 6 with a groin injury, and he hadn't been on the ice for about 10 days.

"That's the first time he's skated in a while," coach Lindy Ruff said. "He's going to try and push through it now."

There is no timetable for the return of Afinogenov or Henrik Tallinder. Ruff said the defenseman is "still a ways away" from coming back from his shoulder injury. Tallinder has missed the past five games.

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Thursday's practice was less than 30 minutes because the Sabres seemed to struggle through that short amount of time. Jet lag from Tuesday's five-hour flight from the West Coast may have sunk in.

"It looked like today was an even more sluggish day," Ruff said. "It kind of hit everybody today, the travel and everything else. We didn't get into it. Get a 30-minute 'get the legs going,' get them out of here and give their minds a rest for a day. We'll ignite them in the morning."

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There's a chance it may look like a home game for the Canadiens, but it's for a charitable cause.

The Sabres are asking their fans to take part in the American Heart Association's "National Wear Red Day." "Go Red for Women" is designed to honor women who have been impacted by heart disease, and there will be a table set up in the concourse with more information about the fight.

Montreal's uniform features red as the primary color.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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