Antropov, Pony ready

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky will return to the lineup tonight after injuring...

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky will return to the lineup tonight after injuring his shoulder during practice last month. (Toronto Sun File/Stan Behal)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

TAMPA -- There is light at the end of the Maple Leafs injury tunnel, and it comes in the form of a couple of big trains.

Coach Paul Maurice said both Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov are probable for tonight's game against the hot Tampa Bay Lightning, provided they make it through the morning skate today. Both the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Antropov, who has missed 17 games with a sprained ankle, and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Ponikarovsky, who has missed 11 games with a separated shoulder, practised without trouble yesterday at the St. Pete Times Forum and said afterward they are ready to go.

"It is important for us and hopefully they are up to speed," Maurice said. "The game we played in here (in November), they played a huge role. They went out with Mats and did a great job in front of the net with their size. It gives us another option with (Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood) out, we have been limited as to how we move the puck on the power play and those two guys are the other option. Put the two big men at the front and try to rip it from the point, and that has not been there for us. I hope they can bring some of that."

In all likelihood, Tucker, who has been nursing a foot injury, will be back Thursday in Sunrise, Fla., against the Florida Panthers. Alex Steen, meanwhile, who has been on the top unit with Mats Sundin and Jeff O'Neill, missed the workout with the flu.

Against the Buffalo Sabres last Thursday, Bates Battaglia played with a similar sickness.

"If it is the same with Bates, (Steen) will play," Maurice said. "We put him in his own room and quarantined him. We've had (a virus) in our room for awhile, but we don't want it to be a major issue."

JUGGLING LINES

Ponikarovsky skated with Sundin and O'Neill yesterday, while Antropov was with Matt Stajan and Chad Kilger. John Pohl remained between Battaglia and Boyd Devereaux, and Travis Green was with Kris Newbury and Wade Belak.

General manager John Ferguson said he would wait until today to activate Ponikarovsky and Antropov from injured reserve. If those two and Steen play tonight, two players will be sent back to the Toronto Marlies. It's expected one would be Ben Ondrus, while Kris Newbury also could go.

Goalie Andrew Raycroft will get a chance to redeem himself tonight after allowing six goals on 21 shots against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.

No matter who is in the lineup, the Leafs will be in tough. The Lightning has won five in a row and with 50 points has four more than the Leafs, who are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference.

"We will have our hands full," defenceman Bryan McCabe said. "It's going to have to be a complete team effort. We've been beating ourselves with the penalty box, and we have to find a way to stay out."


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