<
>

Buffalo likely to get forward Kotalik back Wednesday

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Sabres are getting healthier
just in time for the playoffs with forward Ales Kotalik the latest
player ready to return.


Kotalik, who's missed 16 games with a right knee injury,
practiced fully on Monday and is expected to play in Buffalo's home
game against New Jersey on Wednesday.


"If things keep going the way they've been doing so far, I'm
not seeing any problems playing Wednesday," said Kotalik, who
noted he will have to play with a knee brace.


Kotalik is a sharp-shooting forward who had 14 goals and 36
points in 59 games before he was hurt. He practiced on a line with
center Chris Drury and Dainius Zubrus, acquired last month in a
trade with Washington.


Besides welcoming back Kotalik, coach Lindy Ruff said defenseman
Toni Lydman, who's missed five games with an undisclosed upper body
injury, and rookie forward Daniel Paille, who's missed 15 games
with a broken left index finger, are also close to returning.


That's good news for the Eastern Conference-leading Sabres, who
have seven games left and have a shot at finishing with the NHL's
best record. Buffalo, which has already clinched a playoff spot,
had 103 points as of Monday, tied for first overall with
West-leading Nashville.


Once all three players return, the Sabres would be the
healthiest they've been in months, missing only two regulars: right
wing Maxim Afinogenov, who's missed 17 games with a broken left
wrist, and center Tim Connolly, who's missed the entire season
because of concussion-related symptoms.


Afinogenov could be back in time for the playoffs, and will be
evaluated next week to determine his progress, Ruff said.


Connolly's return hit a setback last month when he sustained a
stress fracture in his leg. He resumed practicing last week, but
has not yet been cleared for contact.