- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Though he is itching to return, Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard sat out Monday night's Game 6 against the Buffalo Sabres. On the other side of the ice, Sabres leading scorer Thomas Vanek returned to action Monday for the first time since a Game 2 injury.
After the morning skate Monday, Bruins coach Claude Julien would not confirm whether Savard, who is working his way back from a Grade 2 concussion suffered on March 7, would play Monday night, but the team confirmed before the game that he would not.
Savard was the first player on the ice for Monday morning's optional workout and among the last players off. He did not talk to reporters after the skate. Savard was scheduled to have another test in the afternoon that could determine whether he will be medically cleared to return to game action. There's no question he wants to play and he's been pushing that point, but Julien has been erring on the side of caution.
Meanwhile, the Sabres got their top playmaker back for Game 6.
"All indications point toward [Vanek] playing tonight," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said Monday morning.
Vanek was injured in Game 2 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series when he slammed into the boards. He suffered what the team has called a "lower-body injury", but it's been reported he suffered a high-ankle sprain.
He has been skating for the last few days, and Ruff has said publicly he left the decision up to Vanek whether he wants to play. Vanek did not talk after the skate Monday morning.
"There's only one person who knows how he feels and that's Thomas," said Ruff. "It's the type of injury, like a groin injury, the doctor can't rub it, he can't stretch it, the player has to say, 'I feel good on the ice. I can go all out. I can sprint and I can stop.' Thomas is the only one who can tell me, 'I'm healthy. I can play.' Even the doctor can't diagnosis it for us. It's in Thomas' hands. The only decision I can make is whether I think his condition is good enough to get him through a game, and I think it will."
Vanek indicated to Ruff on Sunday that he thought he was ready to play.
Prior to the injury, Ruff said he felt Vanek was playing his best. When he exited Game 2, Vanek already had two points in this series and was a plus-2.
"He was going really well before he got hurt and was a big part of our offense," said Ruff.
The likely addition of Vanek to the Sabres' lineup will give Buffalo a boost in Game 6. When Savard is given clearance to return, he will also add some punch to Boston's lineup.
"There's not much [more] I can do," Savard said after practice on Sunday. "I'm going to work hard and be ready to go when [Julien] tells me. The guys are playing well, so I'm not going to go and cause a scene that I want to be in the lineup. Everybody wants to be in the lineup, that's the nature of it. Condition-wise I felt better again [Sunday] and I'm taking steps in the right direction. If you asked me, I can play. But in the same sense you have to do what's best for the team."
Savard has said he believes he can play limited time, possibly 10-12 minutes a game along with time on the power play.
"Looking around the room, my teammates would like me to play, too," added Savard. "They're concerned to on the health-issue stuff, but at the end of the day I think I can help and the guys on my team think I can help. They've been playing good hockey and it's tough to mess that up."
Ruff admitted Monday morning that Vanek would play his usual 16-18 minutes if he's in the lineup.
"I said to him that he has to go all in. It's all in right off the bat," said Ruff. "That doesn't mean that he is going to make it through the game or not make it through the game, I don't know. You can't ease into this game. This isn't a game you can ease into. It's all out right from the start."
When asked what he thought about the strong possibility Vanek would be back in the lineup Monday for Buffalo, Julien didn't seem too concerned either way.
"He hasn't been confirmed yet, has he? He's coming back from an injury and I don't need to start spending too much time worrying about one guy," said the Bruins' coach. "We have a team concept and we play a team game, and when there're players in or out, there're small adjustments. We've had to play against the Ovechkins and Crosbys before. We always adjusted well enough. I don't think Vanek is going to be a guy who will throw us off our game."
Generally speaking, it can be a difficult decision for a coach to make a decision on an injured player during this time of the season.
"It depends on every individual case," said Julien. "Go back to Savard, first of all he has to be cleared medically and then you go from there. Right now we've got no confirmation on anything. If it's another player who's playing with a sore shoulder, is he able to give you enough to make a difference? Everything is treated differently and it depends on the injury and the individual."
The Bruins, who lead the series 3-2, can advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a victory Monday night.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Marc Savard sits out Game 6 for the Bruins.