Numminen might be able to play last two games of regular season

TORONTO -- Buffalo Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen was activated from the injury-suspended list and cleared to play Tuesday, more than six months after the 39-year-old had open-heart surgery.

"It's a good feeling and nice to be back and healthy, officially with the team," Numminen said following Buffalo's 4-3 shootout victory over Toronto. "I'm ready. It's always a coaching decision, but I'm available."

Numminen did not play against the Maple Leafs, but has not been ruled out from playing in either of the Sabres' final two regular-season games.

"It's going to make us make a decision," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said before the game. "He's available to play. The thing I'm unsure [of] first of all, is the fact that he hasn't played all year. You can look good in practice, you could look good in one-on-one and two-on-two drills, but playing a game's a whole different story. We'll just go day-to-day with it."

Buffalo is on the brink of elimination, remaining in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings. The Sabres close their season with games at Montreal on Thursday and at Boston on Saturday.

"It's been a long time since I've played," Numminen explained after being asked if he would be disappointed to not appear in either of the two games. "I'll respect the decision. Whatever they decide, I'm OK with it. It's a team-first situation."

Numminen, an 18-year NHL veteran, has not played this season after having surgery in September to repair a faulty heart valve. The problem was discovered during a routine checkup a week before he reported for the start of the team's training camp.

The Sabres immediately placed Numminen on their suspended list, meaning he could not collect any portion of the one-year, $2.6 million contract he signed in July.

In November, Numminen filed a grievance with the NHL Players' Association, arguing that his heart condition was hockey-related. The grievance will be settled between the union and NHL.

After rejoining the team for light practices in early December, Numminen's hopes to resume playing ended in January when doctors ruled he'd be out until mid-March to allow his sternum additional time to heal.

Numminen, who was not immediately available for comment, rejoined the team again two weeks ago, and has been practicing regularly.

"He's been working extremely hard to get himself ready to play, and it's been a tough situation for him," Ruff said. "The testing has been demanding, the skates have been demanding. He's trying to put himself in a position where he wants to play."

Numminen has had a heart murmur since childhood. He was diagnosed with a dilated aorta in March 2004 when he was playing for the
Dallas Stars, and missed five games before he was cleared to play. The condition also forced Numminen to miss one game and part of another during a playoff series against Philadelphia in 2006.