Gustavsson returns to ice

Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson is getting more respect in the dressing room. (QMI Agency/Stan Behal)

Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson is getting more respect in the dressing room. (QMI Agency/Stan Behal)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 3:33 PM ET

No more than a few Maple Leafs decided to hit the ice for an optional skate early this afternoon, but importantly, one of them was rookie goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.

The 25-year-old Swede was on the ice for the first time since having his second heart ablation last Friday. The Leafs are hoping Gustavsson can return to game action some time next week.

“It feels great and hopefully it will be even better tomorrow,” Gustavsson said after the workout at the MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke.

“I am not worried. Sometimes you have injuries, but you can’t think about what’s going to happen in a few months or a few days. Right now I am happy to be on the ice because it is much more fun than being on the (exercise) bike.”

The Leafs, who play host to Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals tomorrow night at the Air Canada Centre tomorrow night, lost 5-2 in to the Bruins in Boston last night and the majority took today off. Those players who joined Gustavsson on the ice were goalie Joey MacDonald, defencemen Jeff Finger, Luke Schenn and Garnet Exelby and forwards Colton Orr, Rickard Wallin and Jamal Mayers.

Gustavsson left the game in Montreal versus the Canadiens on Dec. 1 after his heart began racing. The procedure, which Gustavsson also had done in September, involves inserting a catheter in his groin to help correct abnormal heart rhythms. Gustavsson indicated it’s the waiting for his groin to heal because of the surgery that is keeping him out, not his heart issues.

As Gustavsson deals with his latest setback, he is getting more respect in the dressing room.

“I think this is a kid who has never got anything for free, so to speak,” Wallin, a fellow Swede, said. “He was never really a star growing up. He has had to work to get himself into the position he is in today.”

Vesa Toskala will start in goal against the Capitals, who play tonight at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. The ’Canes have recalled former Leaf Jiri Tlusty and he is expected make his Carolina debut tonight.

As for Ovechkin, Leafs coach Ron Wilson was asked whether he sees the talented Russian as someone who plays hard or reckless. Last week, Ovechkin was suspended for two games after his knee-on-knee hit on Carolina defenceman Tim Gleason.

“He plays hard and reckless,” Wilson said. “He has done a few things. He slew-foots people, stuck his knee out on a bunch of people, so there is a body of evidence that indicates he does play reckless and on the edge.

“But that is what makes him a great hockey player. He is fearless.”

When the Caps visited Toronto on Nov. 21, the Leafs held Ovechkin to one goal in a 2-1 shootout victory.


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