Nik and Pony put on a show

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

TAMPA -- Nik Antropov missed 17 games as he recovered from a sprained ankle but someone without that information would not have guessed it from watching him last night.

The 6-foot-6 Kazakh was excellent for Toronto, scoring a goal and adding an assist in a 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"It's always nice to score in the first game back," Antropov said. "But I did not do anything special, just played my game and at the end of the night we won."

Alexei Ponikarovsky, who missed 11 games because of a separated shoulder, also was sharp with a goal and an assist. The pair started the game with Chad Kilger but played the third with Mats Sundin, a trio that has worked well before.

The next Leaf expected to be back from injury is Darcy Tucker, but as he walked gingerly out of the St. Pete Times Forum last night, he said he was unsure whether he would play tomorrow against the Florida Panthers. That has been the plan, but Tucker, who will not rush back from a foot injury, will have a better idea after skating today and tomorrow morning.

Tucker hinted that staying out until after the all-star break might be the thing to do.

Antropov, meanwhile, used his big frame smartly. He was on the Leafs' first power-play unit with Sundin and John Pohl and did not appear as though he had not played since Dec. 5.

"I thought Nik was the best forward for us," coach Paul Maurice said. "Pony did some good things but Nik was spectacular. Just his size, he is very difficult to defend. We moved the lines around and those guys made whoever they played with a lot better."

Matt Stajan also was quite complimentary of his teammate.

"He took control of the play and it seemed like he had the puck every time he was out there," Stajan said. "It's good to have those guys back."

Defenceman Bryan McCabe, who was high-sticked accidentally in the third period by Vincent Lecavalier, had a cut on the bridge of his nose but otherwise was okay.


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