McCabe skates

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

OTTAWA -- The Maple Leafs' most valuable player finally can see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Defenceman Bryan McCabe, who has missed the past six games with a slight tear in his groin, hit the ice yesterday for the first time since suffering the injury during a game in Edmonton on Jan. 7, and declared it a success.

"I'm encouraged," said McCabe, who skated at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "It was a positive sign and hopefully I will keep progressing. I don't have a timetable for my return but things are coming along good. I didn't do any stops and starts, but there was no real pain, just some stiffness."

Given the lack of a full practice or two, McCabe said it was "highly doubtful" he would be in the lineup Thursday night at home against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Leafs also have been without Darcy Tucker (ribs) and Eric Lindros (wrist).

To say the Leafs have floundered without McCabe would be a slight understatement. He leads Toronto in scoring with 49 points (15 goals and 34 assists in 42 games)and is 10 points ahead of the next-closest Leaf, Jason Allison.

McCabe called his teammates during dinner on Sunday and they were relieved to hear he is on the path to recovery.

"It meant a lot to everyone," Tie Domi said. "Getting Bryan back will be a huge difference for us. He is one tough character guy."

Domi, meanwhile, spoke to reporters after the morning skate yesterday and acknowledged the past few weeks have been one of more difficult stretches he has experienced since his second stint as a Maple Leaf began in April of 1995. Only captain Mats Sundin has been with the team longer than Domi.

Before his goal last night in the second period, Domi had not scored in the 36 games he had played, dating back to Oct. 24 versus the Boston Bruins.

He was averaging nine minutes, 54 seconds of ice time a game.

"I think we all feel a responsibility and we all want to be accountable," Domi said of the Leafs' plight in general. "Any time when your leader or leaders get criticized, whether it is Pat (Quinn) or Mats or Eddie (Belfour), we all feel responsible. They are great leaders and they know when we lose they are the ones the fingers are pointed at, and when we are winning, they get the credit too."


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