Poni back in saddle?

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Alexei Ponikarovsky's speedy recovery from a shoulder injury could land him back in the Maple Leafs lineup sooner than first predicted.

Ponikarovsky expects to receive medical clearance today to begin full-contact drills at the Leafs' practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena. Should he get the green light, he hopes to suit up for the Leafs when they take on the Buffalo Sabres at the HSBC Arena tomorrow night.

Ponikarovsky was injured when he was smeared against the unforgiving Air Canada Centre boards by Washington defenceman Steve Eminger during a 3-2 Leafs victory over the visiting Capitals on Jan. 23.

Original estimates had the lanky forward being out at least six weeks.

Should he lace up against the Sabres, it will be just three weeks to the day that he was originally hurt.

Asked about his so-called miraculous recovery, Ponikarovsky simply shrugged his shoulders.

"It's one of those things I can't explain," Ponikarovsky said yesterday.

"It's weird. Look what happened after the injury. They were telling me I should be in much more pain than I was.

"After three days I was lifting weights."

Ponikarovsky laughed when it was suggested he was some kind of iron man.

"When I was 18 I broke my femur," Ponikarovsky replied. "That shows I'm breakable."

LOOSE LEAFS

After meeting the Sabres tomorrow, the Leafs play their next five games at home. Toronto has 25 games left and is seven points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. "Obviously we have to win a lot of games and we probably need to get help from some other teams to struggle down the stretch," captain Mats Sundin said. "You know, if we can play the way we did the last couple of games . . . we'll have a chance." ... Forward Chad Kilger, who missed five games to deal with "personal issues," will participate in his first full practice today since returning to the team.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, he is expected to be in the lineup against Buffalo.


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