Mats close to return

Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin could be back in the lineup this weekend as his recovery from a...

Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin could be back in the lineup this weekend as his recovery from a broken orbital bone is ahead of schedule. (Toronto Sun File/Craig Robertson)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:33 PM ET

Mats Sundin would love to be a weekend warrior for the Maple Leafs.

The captain skated in full equipment with the Black Aces yesterday at the Air Canada Centre, with today's first full team workout for him further determining if he returns from an orbital bone injury Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning or Sunday in Washington versus the Capitals.

"Hopefully it's this weekend," Sundin said, though he'll accompany the Leafs to Carolina this afternoon with an outside chance of playing tomorrow.

"The biggest thing will be (today) when I'm with the guys and have other people around me skating and I see how my vision is."

He was cleared for full practice on Monday by club doctors. The eye area looks almost normal after fears he would need surgery to reset the lower left orbital or perhaps a small procedure on the eye itself. He will wear a visor for the immediate future.

"My vision is not back to where the (right) eye is, but it's definitely at the point where I'm comfortable playing and skating," Sundin said.

Sundin had come to training camp in peak condition and has not let that slide after a puck caught him in the season-opening loss to the Ottawa Senators.

"I don't think conditioning will be an issue," Sundin said with a laugh, referring to the notorious post-practice "bag skates" that assistant coach Keith Acton puts the Leafs' scratches through.

With the team hovering near .500 (six wins, four losses and two shootout defeats) and with just three goals in the past three games, there might be temptation for Sundin to squeeze into the lineup against Carolina.

"This is not about rushing anyone," general manager John Ferguson said. "He'll get all the time he needs."

Coach Pat Quinn couldn't help but be amazed at the captain's amazing recuperative powers. It's the third significant injury he has suffered as a Leaf in which he defied the expected return date by two or three weeks.

Though Sundin has an enviable attendance record -- just 35 regular-season games missed as a Leaf going back to 1995 -- the team never has collapsed in his absence. Including playoffs, they have a record of 28-20-2 minus Mats.

The Leafs came through an entire playoff series win over the Ottawa Senators in 2002 without him.

Which forward line Sundin plays on after his return will be an interesting dilemma for Quinn, who just tore up his troikas on Monday before a much-needed 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers. Sundin played opening night with Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov. It was Quinn's pre-season desire to have Sundin, Eric Lindros and Jason Allison remain at centre instead of forming an elite line.

"We've got a long way to go," Lindros said, unwilling to get too carried away in the Florida win so soon after an 8-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators. "The good thing about (beating Florida) is we rolled four lines for the most part and stayed out of the penalty box."


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