No end to tender ribs

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

A 10-day Olympic break wasn't nearly enough to completely heal Darcy Tucker's sore ribs.

"Try 10 weeks," the Maple Leafs forward said yesterday. "That's about how long I would need to rest to be back at 100%.

"I've come to the conclusion I'll be struggling through the remainder of the season in pain. I know I can live with that."

But can he live with the prospect of watching some of his friends on the team, if not himself, dealt away in the coming weeks should management decide to go that way?

Tucker, like the rest of his teammates, does not know if general manager John Ferguson will be a buyer or seller in the days leading up to the March 9 trade deadline.

There have been many suggestions among media members that the Leafs might opt to trade away some of their high-priced assets and concentrate on next season. While the team is in a fierce battle with the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and Atlanta Thrashers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, critics feel the Leafs will make an early exit from the playoffs if they get that far.

But Tucker, for one, does not want to see this team torn apart or blown up. He believes the pieces are there for success, even if they haven't always shown it at times.

"I'm 100% confident in the people we have here," he said. "This team has a lot of potential but we've had some bad luck, bad breaks and haven't always posted the results we should be getting.

"I don't really like this time off in the middle of the season but maybe it has been good for our team as a whole. We need to get some guys back healthy. We haven't been healthy since mid-December."

Health certainly will be an issue when the Leafs congregate at the Air Canada Centre this afternoon for the first time since suffering a disappointing 4-2 loss to the visiting New York Rangers on Feb. 11.

Defencemen Ken Klee, Alexander Khavanov and Carlo Colaiacovo all missed time due to injury prior to the Olympic break. So, too, did Eric Lindros, whose nagging wrist ailment has left him out of the lineup for almost two months.

Klee, for one, resumed practising a couple of weeks ago and might be ready for the Leafs' next game, a visit by Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Feb. 28.

The encounter against the Caps kicks off a span of 25 games shoehorned into 50 days. That includes four matchups with Buffalo, three versus Montreal and a pair of games against the provincial rival Ottawa Senators.

"Every game from here on in is a playoff game for us," Tucker said. "We can't just pick our spots."


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