Tucker rests easy

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Like hundreds of thousands of others sprinkled throughout this country, Darcy Tucker was glued to the tube yesterday afternoon watching Canada win its third consecutive world junior title.

But as much as the Maple Leafs forward may have wanted to jump for joy after Craig Hartsburg's team sealed its 4-2 victory over Russia in the championship game, he couldn't.

Not with his healing left foot still wrapped in a walking cast, leaving him "highly doubtful," (in the words of coach Paul Maurice), for tonight's encounter with the Buffalo Sabres at the Air Canada Centre.

For the time being, Tucker remains upbeat. Watching Canada triumph yesterday brought back memories of the 1995 tournament in Red Deer when he helped lead the hosts to the gold medal.

"I'm sure this latest victory is a good feeling for everyone in Canada" he said last night. "It's tough to go over there and win, especially because we're not used to playing on the big ice. They showed a lot of heart."

So, too, did Tucker when he returned to the Leafs lineup earlier than predicted and helped Toronto defeat the Boston Bruins 5-1 Monday night. Few expected him back that soon after he had suffered microscopic fissures in the bone after being hit in the foot by a shot against the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 26.

Since that victory over the Bruins five days ago, however, the foot has swelled up to the point that it does not fit into his skate.

Tucker likely will be joined in civvies tonight by fellow banged-up forwards Kyle Wellwood and Aleksander Suglobov. Wellwood continues to be nagged by a hip flexor/groin ailment while Suglobov has been pestered by a strained back.

Normally such news would have the Sabres licking their chops at the chance to face such a depleted Leafs lineup, which also is missing Michael Peca, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov up front.

But Maurice's resilient bunch proved it should not be taken lightly when it pounded the Bruins 10-2 Thursday.

On a night when Mats Sundin had just one point, the supporting cast finally proved it can weave together a win.

Alex Steen led the way with his first career hat trick, Matt Stajan snapped a 17-game goalless drought by notching a pair, and the revitalized Bates Battaglia also scored twice.

"Goals bring you confidence," Steen said.

Having said that, the high-flying Sabres, easily the top team in the eastern conference standings, present an entirely new set of problems.

"We have to hit to be successful against them," Maurice said. "And to hit, we have to skate."

Whatever happens, Tucker is enthused about the way the team has plugged the offensive void in his absence.

"I don't feel frustrated if we're winning," he said. "The way guys have stepped in, it's good news for the whole organization.

"It takes some of the urgerncy off the injured guys, too."


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