NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dmitry Kulikov feels his back injury is finally behind him. The Sabres will find out.
Kulikov will be in Buffalo’s lineup Tuesday when the Sabres visit Nashville. The defenseman didn’t take part in the morning skate as a precautionary measure, but he’ll be in his first game since Dec. 27.
“Hopefully, it’s the last time I had to rehab it,” Kulikov said in Bridgestone Arena. “At this point, it feels better than it ever did at any point of the season.”
Kulikov has missed a total of 26 games in connection to a back injury suffered during preseason. He was checked into the door to the bench, and it opened on contact.
“It’s tough,” Kulikov said. “I know 90 percent of the players are playing through injuries throughout the season. It’s just something we do as players. Unless it’s a significant injury where you can’t play, you’re going to push yourself through it and just do everything you can for the team.
“When this happened in the preseason, I didn’t give it much thought as to how bad it was going get. I kept playing until I couldn’t play anymore.”
Kulikov missed the season opener, played in 12 games, sat out the next 13, then played in six straight. He skated 22:33 against Detroit on Dec. 27, then stayed away from the team until practicing Monday.
“I felt like it was doing any good for me and it wasn’t doing any good for the team,” Kulikov said. “That’s why I missed time this past couple weeks to take time and get it better to the point where I don’t have to think about it all.
“Getting back in the lineup is something I’ve worked for really hard in the past couple weeks. It wasn’t a fun year for me so far, but I think I worked hard this past couple weeks, did everything I could to get myself back in the lineup. I’m happy where I’m at right now.”
Coach Dan Bylsma is glad to get Kulikov back, but he’s remaining cautiously optimistic that Kulikov's injury is in the past.
“He has played obviously but hasn’t gotten back to feeling 100 percent,” Bylsma said. “Hopefully, we’re getting close to that now with him – but I still think it’s a management situation for Dmitry the rest of the way.”