Kilger returns with a blast

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Chad Kilger let his slapshot do most of the talking for him.

Understandably tight-lipped about the "personal issues" that caused him to be away from the team for the past couple of weeks, Kilger returned to the Maple Leafs in grand fashion yesterday.

With thousands of screaming, wide-eyed kids in attendance at the Air Canada Centre, Kilger uncoiled a blast that registered 100 m.p.h. to win the hardest shot event at the Leafs' annual skills competition.

While Kilger captured the title for the third consecutive time, his winning speed was far off the mark off the NHL-record 106.6 m.p.h. missile he ripped during last season's event.

"I blame it on the pucks," he joked. "They were heavier this year."

TOSKALA RESTS

Kilger has not been in the lineup since suiting up for the Leafs-St. Louis Blues matchup on Jan. 29 but does expect to play against the Buffalo Sabres at the HSBC Arena Wednesday night.

"I hope so," he said. "I'll be ready.

"I just had some personal things I had to take care of. It's a private issue and I prefer not to comment on it."

Interim general manager Cliff Fletcher welcomed Kilger back to the fold and said the rugged forward will have plenty of opportunity to work himself into game shape for the Northeast Division showdown versus the Sabres.

"Chad's back and he really enjoyed (the skills event)," Fletcher said. "Now he has two days of practice to get ready for the game."

Noticeably absent from yesterday's competition was goalie Vesa Toskala, who has led the Leafs to victories over the Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators in the past nine days.

According to Fletcher, Toskala also will sit out today's outdoor practice at Withrow Park in Toronto's east end. The Leafs are giving their No. 1 goaltender all the time he needs to rest between games, hoping to avoid a recurrence of the nagging groin injury that kept Toskala out of the lineup for a handful of contests earlier this season.

"He's fine," Fletcher said. "It's just precautionary. You don't want your goalies acrobatically hurting something during a skills event, something I've seen happen in the past.

"He's going to play a lot of games for us down the stretch. He'll be ready for Buffalo, for sure."

Yesterday's event raised $110,000 in proceeds that will benefit both the Leafs Fund and The NHLPA Goals And Dreams Fund. Since its inception the Leafs skills event has raised more than $2.6 million.

LEAFS' SKILLS COMPETITION

FASTEST SKATER

Jason Blake: 14.343 seconds.

HARDEST SHOT

Chad Kilger: 100.0 m.p.h.

ACCURACY SHOOTING

Tomas Kaberle: Four targets in five shots.

SHOOTOUT SHOWDOWN

Ian White def. Pavel Kubina in the final.


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