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Buffalo's Hasek might return from groin injury for Game 3

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Now it's up to the Dominator.

After sitting out the the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek has been given the go-ahead to return to the series.Hasek expected to make the big decision sometime before Game 3 tonight at Marine Midland Arena.

"He's medically cleared to play," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said Wednesday. "He's just got to get through that move whether he can get in the butterfly position and go up and down easy enough to play."

After giving up 10 goals in splitting the first two games in Toronto, the Sabres were more than ready to see their star goalie back on the ice. The Sabres were a dispirited team after losing 6-3 in Game 2 on Tuesday night.

Hasek, who has been out with a groin injury while Dwayne Roloson played in his place, skated for a half-hour on Wednesday and said he liked how he was progressing.

"I didn't stop too many pucks, but I felt very good," said Hasek, who has won the last two Hart trophies as league MVP. "I didn't do everything, but my skating was almost without pain. I feel closer to playing the game.

"I know with this injury I won't be 100 percent. But I've already played with the injury and I wasn't 100 percent."

If Hasek decides on further rest, Ruff said Roloson would probably start for the third straight time, but he also said minor leaguer Martin Biron could see action if Roloson falters. Biron played Wednesday night in the AHL playoffs at Rochester and beat Philadelphia 3-0.

The Buffalo offense also was set for a boost. The Sabres' leading scorer, Miroslav Satan, said he was ready to return, too.

"Doctors told me I have to go through some pain, and a little bit is still there, but it's nothing I can't handle," said Satan, who suffered an injury to his right foot in the opening round of the playoffs against Ottawa and hasn't played since.

The Sabres certainly need any kind of edge. So do the Maple Leafs, at least according to coach Pat Quinn.

"We need to try to get better," Quinn said. "If we don't, we won't survive this series."

Despite Quinn's protestations, the Maple Leafs did OK in Game 2, jumping to an early 2-0 lead and throwing plenty of doubt into the seldom-used Roloson and his teammates. The six Toronto goals were the most the Sabres have allowed in the playoffs, and the only ones Buffalo got against goalie Curtis Joseph came on the vaunted power play. The Sabres have scored at least one power-play goal in each of their 12 games.

No matter what the coaches say, the absence of Hasek has had an effect on this series.

"It's always hard to play against Buffalo because of Hasek," said Maple Leafs defenseman Dimitri Yushkevich. "We make like 50 shots and he always stops them all. It's hard to score on them."

If Hasek plays but doesn't return to his dominant form -- he leads all playoff goalies with a .942 save percentage -- the Sabres will be hard-pressed to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for only the second time in team history.