Kubina wants to play

Injured Maple Leafs defenceman Pavel Kubina is close to returning to the lineup. (Sun Mediaa/Craig...

Injured Maple Leafs defenceman Pavel Kubina is close to returning to the lineup. (Sun Mediaa/Craig Robertson)

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Either TV medicine man Floyd (Red Crow) Westerman has set up in the Maple Leafs dressing room or it's playoff time.

How else to explain a second Leaf intent on returning early from injury, rarin' to rejoin the post-season race.

Defenceman Pavel Kubina, whose fractured finger was supposed to keep him out two to three weeks, is aiming to return tonight after just 10 days off.

"With Tomas Kaberle out, there is no time for injuries," Kubina said yesterday after the Leafs' outdoor practice at West Mall Arena.

"It's still pretty sore, but I'm hoping I'll be able to play. It's like playoffs now and it has been difficult on me to be out again (after an early-season knee injury). There is no time to wait."

Kubina worked out with the afflicted finger heavily taped.

"Maybe the finger and hand won't heal properly," Kubina admitted. "It's still painful for slapshots and passes, but maybe if we can tape it or freeze it."

Winger Darcy Tucker came back from a broken foot a game ahead of schedule on Saturday, unable to watch any more after two months off and seeing Kaberle get creamed into a concussed state by New Jersey Devils' Cam Janssen the night before.

"We thought it would be (tonight for Tucker's return), but were told on Saturday that there wouldn't bIt's still pretty sore, but I'm hoping I'll be able to play.difference," Generl manager John Ferguson said. "He was ready to go and it was great to have him back."

Coach Paul Maurice was asked if his staff and the club's medical personnel will look the other way on borderline injury situations, with the Leafs down to 16 games to make the playoffs and seemingly stuck in 11th place. If Kaberle gets close to his projected recovery time of a week to 10 days, he'll be anxious to go as well.

"We don't always rely on our doctors to green-light them," Maurice said. "It gets down to pain tolerance and we leave it up to the players and (trust) they know their bodies best.

"Jeff O'Neill once played eight games with a cracked kneecap (in Carolina) and there have been a lot of those kind of stories with this team that the public knows nothing about."

Ferguson estimated the Leafs are in the top four or five clubs in man-games lost to injury, a statistic the National Hockey League no longer publishes. The Leafs had six forwards out at mid-season.

"We were well over 250 games the last time I checked," Ferguson said. "Pittsburgh, Carolina and Buffalo would be up there, too.

"We've been injury depleted almost from Day 2 of training camp. Ian White is representative of a player who jumped up and grabbed an opportunity on defence. Andy Wozniewski, who has been out most of the year, has stepped back in without missing a beat.

"But let's face it, trying to replace the minutes of a Kaberle or a Kubina is a challenge for the team. It won't be one or two players, it has to come from the whole back line."


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