Mats wants pain to go away

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

The Maple Leafs have two unexpected ailments on their hands, a sudden case of playoff fever around town and a workaholic captain with a wonky groin muscle.

Both conditions will be dealt with further tomorrow when the Buffalo Sabres visit, by which time Mats Sundin will have had two and a half days' rest from a groin pull suffered on Wednesday in Philadelphia. There hasn't been this much interest in a Leaf's lower extremities since rookie Jiri Tlusty's ill-advised expose earlier this season.

"Mats came in for a treatment this morning and there's a chance he'll play against Buffalo," optimistic interim general manager Cliff Fletcher said yesterday. "It wouldn't be right to say he'll play for sure. It's muscle related, but we'll wait and see the next couple of days and guide ourselves accordingly."

There won't be a decision on summoning someone from the Marlies until perhaps tomorrow afternoon, but the AHL farm club conveniently also has a home game tomorrow. Such a callup would not replace Sundin, as coach Paul Maurice either would move Matt Stajan up from the second line or shift Nik Antropov from wing to centre.

One thing that hasn't changed in Fletcher's 11-year hiatus from the Leafs is his trust in Sundin's quick recovery time. Sundin has beaten the targeted date for return from several serious injuries, including an elbow ligament problem early last season.

Sundin, Stajan, Jason Blake and Tomas Kaberle are the only Leafs to have played all 72 games this season. But Sundin routinely rings up more than 20 minutes a game and likely left himself open to a wear-and-tear injury by playing almost 26 minutes against the Flyers on Tuesday, then flying to Philly to start a game less than 24 hours later.

"Everyone's susceptible to this kind of injury, but Mats' durability is second to none," Fletcher said.

Given up for dead a few times this season, the Leafs are proving awfully hard to actually kill off. Before last night, they trailed the Flyers by five points with 10 games to go, with three other teams including the Sabres, within a point.

Two weeks ago, as they began a 9-3-1 run, Fletcher voiced the frustrations of many Leafs fans when he observed how much better they have played with "nothing on the line". But TV cameras caught him clapping and cheering in the press box after the four-goal comeback to stun Philly on Tuesday.

"Hey, beating the Flyers back to back is a substantial feat and I'm proud of the way they've played," Fletcher said. "It showed the players have determination. We're still in there and we've played very well since the deadline."

The Leafs have beaten clubs such as Detroit, Montreal and Colorado and though their previous sins this season still are making the playoffs a long shot, it has been quite a ride for the team. Tuesday's game was one of the few playoff-type experiences for the younger Leafs, who have been dealing with hostile home fans since last season.

NO TANKING

Though many fans were calling for the Leafs to tank it and get a high draft pick a few weeks ago, another win tomorrow would make the die-hard's day and possible put them right out of a top 10 draft position.

Fletcher, who may or may not be around to make a call on Maurice's future in 2008-09, can at least be certain the Leafs haven't quit on their coach. Fletcher was impressed that Maurice pulled goalie Vesa Toskala in regulation of Tuesday's game, signalling his determination to sweep the home-and-home series.

"That was a great call," Fletcher said. "Paul's doing a good job. Hopefully, we'll all be able to enjoy more of it in about three weeks time."


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