BUFFALO -- The Ottawa Senators are hoping Dominik Hasek might play his first game for them in three months tonight, against his old team, the Buffalo Sabres.
Hasek, sidelined since straining an adductor muscle Feb. 15 while playing goal for the Czech Republic at the Olympic s, practised yesterday and declared afterward, "I'm almost ready. I finally feel like a goalie."
Coach Bryan Murray wasn't prepared to start him last night, however, instead sticking with 23-year-old rookie Ray Emery, who allowed a couple of soft goals in a 3-2 overtime loss.
"He was quite active in the net and probably could play if he had to, but he's not going to," Murray said of Hasek before last night's game. "He looked like he stopped the puck a lot."
But with Ottawa trailing the Sabres 3-0 in their Eastern Conference semifinal, there's no time like now for Hasek's return and Murray was asked about tonight's Game 4 at the HSBC Arena, where the 41-year-old Hasek won his first NHL playoff game as a Sabre in 1993.
"Dominik hasn't indicated to me he can play," said a grim-faced Murray.
Hasek's last game with the Senators was a Feb. 11 win against Philadelphia.
Hasek's abductor injury, high in the butt area, isn't related to his groin injury that needed surgery two years ago.
"I definitely can feel a huge improvement," said Hasek, who appeared to be back to his old self, diving and jumping in the air to make his patented acrobatic saves.
"I can go up and down. I can jump. I can make two-pad slides. But at this point, I know I can still do a better job and I am not what I need to be to play."
He'd skated some in the last couple of weeks and faced some shots, but hadn't done as much as during yesterday's 45-minute workout.
Despite being away from the game so long, he said, "My timing is not bad."
Asked how important it is for the Senators to have a healthy Hasek, he replied: "I have lots of confidence in my teammates and in our goalie.
"Ray, he didn't have the best game, the first one (a 7-6 overtime loss), but I believe he can do the job.
"I wish I can play this series, but I'm not going to make any prediction. I need to feel confident enough that I can play.
"But it is a positive I can enjoy the time on the ice."