Peca getting anxious

TERRY KOSHAN

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Michael Peca skated with his teammates for the first time yesterday since suffering injuries to his right leg Dec. 22 and if all goes well in a meeting with doctors on Tuesday, the Maple Leafs centre could return to full practices later next week.

"It's just a natural progression," Peca, who was on skates for the fourth time since getting hurt, said after the morning skate at the Verizon Center in Washington. "There's one more X-ray to go to make sure everything structurally is the same, and then we will go ahead. Does this mean Peca will, in fact, be in the lineup before the end of the regular season?

"I've maintained all along I wanted to be back before playoffs," Peca said. "The beginning of April is not a long shot."

Mentally, Peca said he is closer.

"It's the emotions of the game," Peca said. "Early on I was watching games and I would be excited, but now it is swearing at the TV, swearing at guys, just more into it. It is at the stage where it is difficult to not be in the lineup."

TO PEEK OR NOT TO PEEK

Leafs coach Paul Maurice said he finds his job stressful enough without checking the tight Eastern Conference standings on a daily basis.

"It's too much," Maurice said. "If I spend an hour looking at that, it's an added hour of pressure to your day and there is enough there (already)."

But some players don't seem to mind having a look.

"We are not staring at the standings, but you have to be aware at this time of year," forward Chad Kilger said. "You have to realize how crucial each game is."

Said Peca: "It's human nature. I have always kind of chuckled when guys say they don't watch (the standings). We all do and we should because we should be aware of what is around us."

NICE BREAK

The Washington Capitals got lucky last night and they knew it. On their first goal, Steve Eminger dumped the puck into the Leafs zone. It bounced off the end boards and through the legs of goalie Andrew Raycroft, who had turned around to play it. As Raycroft scrambled to recover, Alexandre Giroux tapped the puck into the net.

"It was good to start off with some puck luck and get a good break," Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. "We went to the net hard al night. It was a great night."


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