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Bourque back on ice, may not retire

Ray Bourque insists he's returning to the Colorado Avalanche lineup on his own timetable _ not because defensive partner Adam Foote is out with an eye injury.

"Regardless of whether Adam was there or not, you've got to be good enough to go," Bourque said Wednesday. "That's why I'm playing Friday, because I'm well enough."

Bourque, the Hall of Fame-bound defenseman who has missed the last four playoff games because of a strained left knee, practiced hard and, for the first time, took contact in Wednesday's workout.

Afterward, he pronounced himself ready to play in Game 3 against the Stars, set for Friday night in Denver, where the Avalanche is 6-0 this post-season.

Avalanche coach Bob Hartley hinted Tuesday that Bourque would return for Game 3, and Bourque made it official.

"It felt good," Bourque said. "I went through practice and it went very well. I'm where I need to be. So it's a go for Friday, and I'm anxious to get going."

Bourque, injured in the third game of the conference semifinal series against Detroit on May 1, skated on his own after the injury and rejoined his teammates during workouts late last week. Wednesday's workout, featuring his first contact, was a breakthrough.

Bourque, who will wear a brace on his knee, insisted he expects to continue getting significant amounts of ice time, just as he did before the injury.

He also said his brief tenure with the Avalanche makes him want to return next season.

"The experience has told me that it's a very good possibility I'll be playing next season," Bourque said. "I wanted to play at a high level again and contend for the Stanley Cup. If I had finished the year off in Boston, I'd be calling it quits."

Hall of Famers in hospital

MONTREAL _ Maurice "Rocket" Richard is feared to have abdominal cancer that he first fought off more than a year ago.

"We're not sure, but it might be possible that the cancer has come back," Richard's agent and close friend, Jean Roy, said.

Richard, 76, was in the hospital Monday, the same day former Canadiens teammate Jean Beliveau said he needed treatment for a cancerous tumor in his neck.

Richard was expected to be released today to await test results.

Beliveau, 68, is to begin therapy soon for the tumor that was discovered during his annual checkup.

COYOTES: Owner Richard Burke has extended the deadline for a prospective buyer to make a $10-million down payment.

Developer Steve Ellman was to have delivered the money to Burke. But Burke, in a gesture he called unsolicited, gave Ellman an extension until May 26.

Ellman has been trying to round up investors to help with the purchase, which must be completed by June 30 with an additional $17-million cash payment and a $60-million loan transfer.

Wayne Gretzky's name surfaced last week as a potential co-owner amid reports that he believed the opportunity was right, but the timing wasn't. Michael Barnett, Gretzky's agent, did not return a phone call seeking comment on the new timeline.

DEVILS: Rookie center John Madden won't require surgery on his injured right knee, though he's started rehabilitation and is out indefinitely. Madden was hurt Tuesday when he collided with the Flyers Keith Primeau.

FLYERS: Center Daymond Langkow could miss Game 3 against the Devils after a concussion Tuesday. Langkow, who didn't travel with the Flyers to New Jersey for tonight's game, had neurological testing that revealed the concussion. The team said his playing status is day-to-day.

MIGHTY DUCKS: Coach Craig Hartsburg agreed to a two-year contract extension. Terms were not announced. Hartsburg, 40, is under contract through the 2002-03 season.

WILD: Minneapolis' expansion team signed free-agent forwards Kai Nurminen and Brendan Walsh. Nurminen was the leading scorer and MVP of the Finnish League this season. Walsh is the second player from the University of Maine to join the team.

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