Mike Modano, saying he was "feeling a lot better," indicated he was ready to play in tonight's Game 3 in the Stanley Cup finals against the Buffalo Sabres.

But the Dallas Stars' top player also said he would wait to see how he felt at game time before making his final decision.

"I have the rest of my life to heal," Modano said. "This is a crucial game and in my gut, I'll probably play."

Modano, the Stars' regular season leading scorer and all-around best player, suffered an injury to his left wrist when he was hit by Buffalo's Jay McKee in Game 2 Thursday night.

Modano has four assists in his last five playoff games and leads Dallas in playoff assists and take-aways. He is second in points, faceoffs and shots and is third in average ice time.

Speculation about the extent of his injury ranged from a fractured wrist to strained ligaments. Modano called the injury a "bad bruise. I jammed it pretty good. It's pretty sore. I'll have to have a cast on it to protect it [for the game]. There will be a little bit of a bull's-eye on it."

Stars defenseman Derian Hatcher warned the Sabres against targeting the injury.

"If they take whacks at it, and end up busting it, I wouldn't want to be that guy," Hatcher said.

Modano said he would meet with a doctor before making his decision.

Dallas Coach Ken Hitchcock said the decision was Modano's.

"It's Mike's call, but he knows the parameters of the call right now. If he's not one hundred percent, he's not going to play."

The Sabres didn't think Modano's absence would make a difference.

"Whether he's in or out, they're still the best hockey team in the league," right wing Dixon Ward said.

The hit on Modano sparked more verbal sparring between the teams in this contentious series. Following Modano's injury, Hitchcock said:

"They go after our best player, we'll go after their best player. . . . Their best player is [Dominik] Hasek."

The Sabres have problems trying to protect Hasek, the MVP goalie who has become a target in several ways. The Stars felt they gave him too much space in Game 1 and were more aggressive in Game 2, crashing the net and creating traffic in front of him.

"They were very aggressive in front of me," Hasek said.

"They were falling on me on purpose. They pushed my teammates on me when I was down on the ice, which is very dangerous."

Hasek is one of the most active goalies in the league, consistently wandering out of his goal crease to play the puck like a third defenseman.

Listening to Hitchcock, it could be open season on goalies the rest of the series.

"The message isn't to go after Dominik Hasek. The message is on loose pucks. They're just as much ours as they are Buffalo's if they're up for grabs and if a player is going to interfere, get out of the way. Stay in the net, that's what you're paid for and if he wants to come out of the net, then pay the price."

The Sabres feel the Stars have played dirty against Hasek, taking runs at him. Suddenly, there is a rivalry between two teams that played twice during the regular season and do not share much of a history.

"I think that happens in the playoffs," McKee said. "There is some level of hate, and especially when guys are running at Dom . . . that's going to tick us off a bit . . . so it's going to get more emotional and physical."

Nearly lost in the verbal cross-fire is the strength of the series. The Sabres won Game 1, 3-2, in overtime and the Stars took Game 2, 4-2, in what was a one-goal contest until Hatcher scored an empty-netter in the final minute.