Injured Leafs trickling back to face Red Wings

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

There was a time when this afternoon's Hockey Day in Canada matchup at the Air Canada Centre could have been billed as The Red Wings versus The Red Cross.

With a lineup that featured almost as many Marlies as Maple Leafs during Tuesday's 8-0 humiliation at the hands of the Florida Panthers, coach Paul Maurice could have added his own migraine to the lengthy list of ailments plaguing his injury-riddled team.

But reinforcements seem to be on the way, led by defenceman Bryan McCabe, whose return to the lineup from a fractured left hand played a role in the Leafs' 4-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Thursday night.

Next, the Leafs could welcome back another pair of familiar faces when they face off against the Red Wings.

Nik Antropov, having served his three-game suspension for chucking his stick in the direction of the referees in Carolina nine days ago, should add some offensive spark to a team that will need all of the goal-scoring pop it can muster against Dominik Hasek and the high-powered Wings.

Another potential boost up front could come in the form of winger Alex Steen, who has been sidelined for about two weeks since suffering a shoulder injury during a game against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on Jan. 24.

Maurice said Steen will be checked out by doctors this morning. Should he get the thumbs-up, he'll be in the lineup for this rare Red Wings visit to Toronto.

"This is as good as it has felt," Steen said after taking part in a full practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena yesterday. "Hopefully, I'll be ready to go.

"The first week after the injury was really frustrating. It went by pretty slow. But I've taken some big steps the past few days."

Alexei Ponikarovsky is not quite as fortunate, although he is said to be well ahead of schedule.

He injured his right shoulder after being smeared by Caps defenceman Steve Eminger, who was assessed a boarding penalty, during the Leafs 3-2 win over Washington on Jan. 23.

Ponikarovsky is taking part in line rushes at practice but is not expected to return for at least another week.

"It's not about shooting or handling the puck. It's about being able to take contact. Once that happens, I should be ready to go," he said.

If nothing else, the additions of McCabe, Antropov and, possibly, Steen, will help the Leafs be more competitive. Their returns, however, appear to be too late to salvage a playoff spot.

And while seeing the Red Wings in town is a rare treat for most Toronto hockey fans, Maurice isn't actually giddy at facing one of the league's power houses.

"I'd like to say we'd like to see them more, but that would be a lie," Maurice chuckled. "Once a season right now is enough."


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