Eric Lindros wants to celebrate his 33rd birthday today by getting back together with some old work buddies.
The injury-cursed centre might have to give in and play the wing to ease the strain on his yet-to-be healed right wrist, but he's optimistic of playing tonight against the Washington Capitals. It has been 80 days since No. 88 had his ligament torn in a game against the Dallas Stars.
"It's a long road and I hope it's over," Lindros said yesterday morning. "It has gotten better the past five or six days (shooting and stick-handling). I feel good and we'll see about tomorrow. It will be good to start focusing on an opposition lineup for a change."
Since Lindros was hurt, there have been several false alarms about his condition, ranging from season-ending surgery to a pre-Christmas recovery.
Coach Pat Quinn, back on the job after an all-night Team Canada flight from Europe, needed some good news and the return of Lindros (22 points in 30 games), along with pre-Olympic break scrubs Ken Klee and Alex Khavanov, were welcome developments for the ninth-place Leafs.
If Lindros plays, only the concussed Carlo Colaiacovo will be out and the latter began his first light workouts yesterday after being hurt on Jan. 23 in Ottawa.
Tonight's game marks the first of 25 in 50 days for the Leafs, including back to back this weekend in Buffalo and here against the Senators.
Joining Quinn at practice yesterday were Team Canada defenceman Bryan McCabe and Czech Republic defenceman Tomas Kaberle. Still missing is gold-medallists Mats Sundin and Mikael Tellqvist of Sweden and runner-up Aki Berg of Finland, all due today.
Winger Nik Antropov spent the day getting a precautionary MRI on his shoulder, but general manager John Ferguson later said there are "no issues" with the big Kazakh.
SKATES WITH WELLWOOD
Lindros skated on right wing with centre Kyle Wellwood and Chad Kilger yesterday, while indications are Clarke Wilm was keeping a spot between Alex Steen and Alexei Ponikarovsky warm for Sundin.
The return of Khavanov and Klee will keep defencemen Jay Harrison and Andy Wozniewski with the Marlies for now. But fatigue could soon become an issue with players such as McCabe and Kaberle, who already were working close to 30 minutes a night and did not have the benefits of a full Olympic break.
Quinn won't announce any roster decisions yet, but Wade Belak and Mariusz Czerkawski likely are the candidates to sit tonight. Given Ed Belfour's long rest and the importance of squeezing out points, it's likely he'll play at least the first three games in goal.