Leafs inhale for last gasp

Mats Sundin participated in his first full practice since his groin injury on Wednesday, March 26,...

Mats Sundin participated in his first full practice since his groin injury on Wednesday, March 26, 2008. (Sun Media/Michael Peake)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:11 PM ET

Just a slapshot away from the official ground-breaking ceremony being held for the team's new four-pad practice facility yesterday, the Maple Leafs were at Lakeshore Lions Arena attempting to find a way to escape the hole they have dug themselves.

But not even the potential returns of Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov to the lineup tonight likely will be enough to allow Paul Maurice's disheartened team to crawl back into the playoff hunt.

Any post-season aspirations, fanned by the team's late-season run, were pretty much buried by a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre.

With the two teams set to lock horns again this evening at the TD Banknorth Garden, a loss in Beantown virtually would eliminate the Leafs from playoff contention for a third consecutive season.

While officials at the NHL head office could not confirm if a Leafs defeat officially will end the Leafs' playoff aspirations, it would take a mathematic miracle to make it.

Another setback tonight would leave Toronto eight points behind Boston with just four games to play. Both the Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers hold tiebreakers over the Leafs, but a three-way tie could somehow prevent the coffin from being closed.

As it is, the Leafs enter the game six points behind Boston with just five outings remaining. Even if they run the table, the odds of reaching the post-season are slim to none.

THE FIRST TWO

Antropov and Sundin were the first two players on the ice yesterday, skating for about five minutes before being joined by their teammates for a full workout. The duo practised on a line with rookie Jiri Tlusty, meaning the existing Jason Blake-Matt Stajan-Darcy Tucker and Alexei Ponikarovsky-Alex Steen-Kyle Wellwood units might remain intact.

"The plan is that I will play," said Antropov, who has been out with a knee injury suffered March 15 against the Buffalo Sabres. "I'll confirm it at the morning skate but if it doesn't swell up or anything, I'll go.

"It's been really difficult to just sit and watch but a lot of guys have stepped up for us. There is no quit in this room."

Sundin, who suffered a slight tear of the groin muscle during a matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 12, participated in his first full practice since the injury.

"If it feels as good (on game day) as it did out there during the workout, I think I'll be able to play," the captain said.

Sundin, who is on a one-year, $5.5-million US contract, was asked if he has given any thought to the notion that he might be spending his final couple of weeks as a Leaf. There are rumblings he could retire in the off-season.

"I signed a one-year contract because I want to re-evaluate how I played and how I feel over the summer," he said. "That has not changed. Right now I'm not even thinking about that stuff."


Videos

Photos