BUFFALO – Sabres center Tage Thompson gutted out his upper-body injury once, playing less than a day after colliding with New Jersey Devils star Timo Meier.
But Thompson, 25, was a non-factor March 25 in a 2-0 road win over the New York Islanders. So the Sabres’ leading scorer has sat out the last three games.
“It just got to a point where it was hindering me too much to where I couldn’t really play my game and be effective,” Thompson said following Monday’s practice at KeyBank Center. “So I figured it was time to take some time and get healthy so we could be healthy for the last push here. I think it was probably a smart approach.”
Thompson said he “felt pretty good” skating in his regular spot between Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch during his first session back. Coach Don Granato said he planned to talk to Thompson later Monday during the team’s flight to Florida, where they play their biggest late-season game since 2012 tonight against the Panthers.
No official determination has been made for Thompson. Still, Granato said he liked what he saw.
“It’s just one of those injuries, it’ll impede until it resolves completely, and that could happen overnight,” he said. “And today was a very good sign.”
Thompson, who has scored 44 goals and 89 points this season, said he responded well after skating on his own Saturday and Sunday.
“The last few days I’ve been making some good strides,” he said. “Today was a good test to get back out there and just kind of get a little more battles and kind of just feel it a little bit more.”
The Sabres went 2-0-1 without Thompson, moving to within five points of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who own the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot. They’re four points behind the Panthers, the only team that separates them from the Penguins.
They have two games in hand on both Pittsburgh and Florida.
With Thompson back Monday, center Casey Mittelstadt, his replacement on the top line, moved between Tyson Jost and Victor Olofsson, both of whom took reps at right wing, and Jordan Greenway.
Mittelstadt registered six assists during Thompson’s absence, including three in Saturday’s 6-3 road win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
“Mittsy did a really good job filling in,” Tuch said. “… He’s been playing some of the best hockey of his career over the last 10 to 15 games.”