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Goaltender Dominik Hasek said there's "very little chance" he'll suit up for the Ottawa Senators when National Hockey League action returns March 1 and that he can't put a timeline on his comeback from a groin injury that forced his withdrawal from the Winter Olympics.

"Of course I'm worried, I'll be honest," the 41-year-old said as he met with reporters for the first time since returning from the Turin Games, where he strained a groin-area muscle in the first period of the Czech Republic's opening game last week.

"But on the other hand, I want to do all the best to get on the ice as soon as possible, and I hope I can be in the same shape I was during the season," he added. "But I have to admit, I am worried. It's a difficult situation for me."

Hasek underwent surgery to repair a serious groin injury before signing with the Senators as a free agent in the summer of 2004. Since then, any mention of an injury related to Hasek's groin sends a collective shudder throughout the organization and its fans.

The big fear is that, given his age, Hasek may not be able to bounce back in time for the stretch run and the playoffs.

He's been a massive part of the Senators' success this season. He ranks tied for second in the league in goals-against average (2.09), fourth in save percentage (.925), tied for third in wins (28) and tied for second in shutouts (five).

Hasek was hurt while making what appeared to be a routine save against Germany. He underwent a magnetic resonance image with Czech team doctors and a second one in Ottawa yesterday morning.

"When I made a save I felt a really sharp pain and I knew right away that it's bad," Hasek said.

"It's hard to describe; it's a little bit different than in the past . . . it's like three or four inches from the experience I had before."

Hasek, who walked without any visible limp into an Ottawa news conference, already appears to be on the road to recovery. But the Senators, who return to practice today and play their first post-Olympic game a week later at Pittsburgh against the Penguins, can't predict his return.

"I wish to be back on the ice against Pittsburgh, but because of the way I feel right now, there's no strength in that particular muscle. I don't think it's possible, to be honest. Maybe, but there is very little chance," Hasek said.

"It's only been one week since I got injured and I feel better. . . . I'm feel almost pain free, which is a good sign, but there's still lots of work ahead of me."

Senators team doctor Donald Chow said Hasek has a mild muscle strain in the adductor muscle of his right thigh. The adductor muscle helps in pulling the leg into the body.

"The amount of swelling has actually decreased somewhat," Chow said. "So far, things have proceeded very nicely."

Senators general manager John Muckler isn't available for comment until early next week when he returns from Florida, where he's spending the Olympic break. However, the situation will increase Ottawa's interest in acquiring an experienced goaltender as an insurance policy for the playoffs before the trade deadline. For now, backup Ray Emery will be in for some extra duty in goal.

In the meantime, Hasek will undergo off-ice rehab work with the team's head athletic therapist, Gerry Townend.

"I want to be in the best shape [when I come]back and I want to be as good as I was in the beginning of the season," Hasek said. "And it means I have to be 100 per cent like I was the first three or four months."

Hasek said he was disappointed he had to leave the Czech Republic squad so early in the tournament.

The team enters the quarter-finals today, but Tomas Vokoun has been a disappointment in goal. Vokoun was pulled after giving up all three of Canada's goals in the first period of the Czech's 3-2 round-robin loss yesterday.

"It's a terrible situation. I packed all my luggage, leaving the Olympic village and I was so sad, but at the same time I was starting to focus on the therapy and to back here and get ready as soon as possible," Hasek said.

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