Good time to return for Belak

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:25 PM ET

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 Wade Belak's playoff participation, up until last night, consisted of counting Maple Leafs flags on cars coming to and from the rink.

 But he finally had a closeup of the Philadelphia Flyers last night on a revamped Sky Line with Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky. He was part of a Leafs meat grinder that knocked the Flyers back on their heels.

 "That's my kind of game, where it's physical," Belak said after the 4-1 win. "It was a good game to come back in. Pat (Quinn) used us right away and I had a good time."

 From a self-inflicted eight-game high-sticking suspension on March 20, Belak had done nothing but practise for more than five weeks, and then was tossed into an almost must-win situation last night.

 "Wade was moving his feet and did a great job," Tie Domi said. "He hung around the front of their net and he's a big guy so he's tough to move. It was great to see him contribute."

 Belak had been going stir crazy since his suspension ended after Game 2 of the Ottawa series.

 "You don't feel part of the team," he said yesterday morning. "I want to get out there and play physical, but not run around and look for the hit and take myself out of position. When the chance comes, you want to hit guys and take full advantage, especially on the forecheck."

 Belak's insertion into the lineup came at the expense of Tom Fitzgerald, who was as good as any Leafs forechecker in Games 1 and 2, but missed a great scoring chance in Philadelphia. Belak better complements the Sky Line, all of whom are 6-foot-4 or taller.

 Belak played a big role in the Leafs' run to the Eastern Conference final in 2002, but he was limited to two games in last year's series against the Flyers.

 "The (playoff) atmosphere out there is what you dream of," he said. "It's nice to play at home with that added boost. It's always fun to see the atmosphere driving to the rink. There's usually guys on the corner with signs. It's a crazy time of year, but it's fun.

 "The city is going nuts right now and (the Flyers) have got the same fans nuttier than us, so I'm looking forward to it." /P>


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