VANCOUVER -- On the day that top scorer Bryan McCabe missed his first game of the season, the Maple Leafs received some long-awaited good news on the injury front.
Eric Lindros might be coming back faster than anticipated later this month from a torn wrist ligament, while Nik Antropov is aiming for the Leafs' home game against the Phoenix Coyotes Saturday to return from knee swelling.
Both forwards were knocked out of the lineup within a game of each other in mid-December. In Lindros' case, he was hurt a month ago last night and there were fears that the delicate ligament eventually would require surgery, possibly a season-ending procedure.
But it was decided to try to let the ligament heal on its own, even though Lindros has been unable to do much more than hold a stick in one hand, from the combination of the pain and a cumbersome cast up his right arm. But a sneak peek at the injury a few days ago revealed some healing.
"When they took the cast off in Calgary, we did a little bit of an examination and it felt pretty good," Lindros said yesterday. "So hopefully, we're right there and we can start playing (as soon as possible). They put on a new cast on (Monday) and though I don't know what's in store in terms of timing -- we don't get into town until 6 a.m. -- they'll take it off and hopefully see we've made some strides."
Lindros has practised with the team throughout the trip, wanting to be as close to game shape as possible in case he did get good news. But that has meant long hours of rehab and extra time on the ice before and after full team practice, working out with Antropov.
"This is awful, it's the longest month of my life," Lindros said. "A lot of the day is (team) puck-handling drills, so you're always sitting around.
"But we'll battle through and hopefully, find a way to deal with the pain and it will simply be a matter of hanging on to the puck again. A couple of days of that and hopefully, everything comes back."
Lindros didn't miss a start in his first 30 games with his new team and had 22 points.
Antropov, who has had major surgery on both his knees, went through a stretch where even dryland training was causing him discomfort. But he has been able to go all out the past few days.
"I'm set for Saturday," he vowed yesterday. "I'm done with the pain. It's just probably conditioning now (keeping him from the lineup).
"I can shoot, which was my main concern for the last five days. I had a full practice yesterday with the team and participated in every drill. It feels good and we're ready to go."
Antropov, playing left wing this year, had 10 points in 22 games.
McCabe is expected back on Saturday as well.