Sundin eyes Island return

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

Next stop: The Island.

After Mats Sundin was unable to answer the bell last night against the Buffalo Sabres because of his nagging groin strain, the target for his return has now become Tuesday's matchup against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

"We're very hopeful that he will (be back)," coach Paul Maurice said yesterday.

The Leafs had better hope the captain has a quick recovery. The team's playoff hopes, already dangling by a thread, likely will be scuttled should Sundin be sidelined for any length of time.

"This is a one-game thing, we (hope). If it's not, we're going to have to find a way to win without him," Maurice said.

Good luck with that.

In reality, replacing Sundin's production and leadership down the stretch would be impossible. The captain has been playing his best hockey of the season since the trade deadline and was on a nine-game, 16-point scoring streak at the time of his injury in the first period of Wednesday's game against Philadelphia at the Wachovia Center.

The Leafs, to their credit, rallied in his absence and battled to a 3-2 win, thanks to Pavel Kubina's game-winner in the third period.

MISSES FIRST GAME

Sundin tested out the groin Friday during a brief skate prior to practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena but admitted he did not "push it." That, he said, would happen at the morning skate yesterday.

Sure enough, Sundin did test the injury at the Air Canada Centre at 10 a.m. yesterday morning. About an hour later Maurice confirmed Sundin would not be available to face the Sabres, meaning the captain would miss his first game of the season.


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