Wins improve Joe's chances

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:27 AM ET

 The Maple Leafs are trying to beat the Philadelphia Flyers and win the race against time for Joe Nieuwendyk, too.

 Each victory they scrape out means their top playoff goal man has a better chance of returning to this series.

  An optimistic Nieuwendyk spoke yesterday of being ready for Game 5 tomorrow afternoon.

 "I feel better every day," he said following an energetic morning skate. "I skated better today than yesterday and much better than the day before. I'm on the right track. I think another day or two will make that much more of a difference."

 Coach Pat Quinn, who has been more cautious about his injured players' enthusiasm to get back in the lineup, acknowledged Nieuwendyk's improved health after last night's game and, for the first time since Game 1, spoke of his possible return.

 "If he has another good skating day like that, we'll think about it," Quinn said.

 Though Nieuwendyk avoids talking directly about the injury, thought to be recurring back spasms, he is looking in game form. He remains Toronto's goals leader with five in seven games.

 Another win last night also bought time for Owen Nolan's knee, though Quinn was not signalling an imminent comeback.

 "Owen's heart is there, but whether the rest of him can make a contribution is hard to say," Quinn said.

 The absence of Nieuwendyk, Nolan and Mikael Renberg (hamstring) means the Leafs have had to field a smaller lineup against the Flyers.

 Renberg is ready, but Quinn has decided to keep him out for the present time.

 Nieuwendyk is encouraged that the Leafs won two games in his absence, and their overall record without him in the playoffs is 2-2.

 "It shows you it doesn't matter who is in or out of the lineup," he said. "When we play like a pack of 20, we're hard to play against."

 Nieuwendyk is missed in the faceoff circle, where the Leafs were slightly behind the Flyers on the draw last night.

 "When we win faceoffs, we're going right to the net and getting in Robert Esche's face a bit and it makes it that much more difficult for him," Nieuwendyk said. "So, winning faceoffs can be the difference."


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