Tucker broken up over latest setback

TORONTO SUN STAFF

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

Darcy Tucker was not on skates yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena as the Maple Leafs returned to practice after the all-star break.

In fact, the Leafs' leading goal-scorer was in only one boot.

Tucker revealed he flew back to Toronto last Saturday morning from Pittsburgh and went directly to a local hospital to have minor elbow surgery. By the time he departed, he had a cast on his injured left foot, which has kept him out of every game but one since Boxing Day.

"It's different when a team is coasting along like Anaheim or Buffalo, and you can it does not matter," Tucker said as he balanced himself on a pair of crutches. "But the competitive will in your body takes over and you want to be out there with the guys.

"It is tough to sit back and watch. It tears you apart and it is hard to deal with."

With 33 games remaining in their regular season, the Leafs get back to the ice tomorrow night at home versus the Montreal Canadiens before a span of five consecutive away games begins Tuesday in Carolina.

The Leafs already were dealing with the knowledge that centre Kyle Wellwood, who had surgery on a sports hernia this week, will be out up to eight weeks. There is no target date for the return of Tucker, who was hit by a shot against the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 26 and suffered small fractures in his foot. As for his elbow surgery, it was some cleaning he had planned to have done during the all-star break and would not have missed any games because of it.

Tucker, who has 19 goals, appeared to be on the cusp of returning to the lineup during the Leafs' two-game trip to Florida last week. But swelling held him back and doctors advised him to stay off the foot.

"We thought his injury was healing and in fact it wasn't," coach Paul Maurice said. "He is in a situation now where he would be at risk if we put him on the ice. We can't afford to do that. We are going to re-visit this in about a week, and I am hopeful it will not be much longer than that."

The Leafs have managed to keep their heads above water with a raft of injuries and have no choice but to do the same as the season winds down. With 50 points, they have as many as the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, but are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. With eight points separating seventh-place Tampa Bay and 14th-place Florida, there is no margin for mistakes.

Despite a depleted lineup, the Leafs cling to a belief they can earn an invitation to the post-season after failing to do so last spring. Captain Mats Sundin tried to sound convincing.

"I guess the good thing is we have not really had a stretch, and you do every year, where you put a good streak together," Sundin said. "We are overdue to play some solid hockey for more than just a week. We need to play two or three weeks where we are really playing well. The first week of April, if we are playing as hard as we can, there is a good chance we can be in the playoffs."


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