Fired up Phaneuf back in lineup

Toronto Maple Leafs' Dion Phaneuf (C) is helped off the ice by teammate Carl Gunnarsson and a...

Toronto Maple Leafs' Dion Phaneuf (C) is helped off the ice by teammate Carl Gunnarsson and a trainer during a break in play, after he was injured during the second period of their NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators in Toronto November 2, 2010. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:23 PM ET

TORONTO - For the past five weeks, the only sightings of a uniformed Dion Phaneuf around town were those energy drink posters in the TTC stations.

But hell be back in mind and body on Thursday night at home against the Philadelphia Flyers, the troublesome gash on his left leg healed at last. Phaneuf tore up the Air Canada Centre with a couple of black aces at an optional morning skate.

Its been long enough, the team captain said. Its not easy being hurt and watching.

He was probably ready to go Wednesday in Pittsburgh, a game his team fell behind 4-0 and then lost 5-2.

I didnt come back because between me, the doctors and the training staff, it wasnt a great time to start back-to-back games. Ive been out five weeks and it wasnt the easiest schedule to come back to, but Im ready to go and Im excited.

After Phaneuf suffered a cut in a freak accident with the skate blade of Ottawa Senators Peter Regin on Nov. 2, he was laid up in Mt. Sinai Hospital, then developed an infection that required a visit to a disease specialist.

The reaction set me back, thats for sure, Phaneuf said. But my focus is not about the past and what I went through, its about being ready to play tonight and a big game for our team. We have to get points and its a critical part of the year.

The question is which Leaf defenceman will come out of the lineup? Coach Ron Wilson didnt speak to the media on Thursday and though seniority would dictate that Carl Gunnarsson or Keith Aulie step aside, both have played well. Mike Komisarek has not had a great year thus far and Aulie has taken some of his ice time, but that would be a lot of money sitting in the pressbox with Jeff Finger already exiled to the Marlies.

The Leafs were 5-4-1 before Phaneuf was hurt and were 5-9-3 afterwards, counting the Ottawa game. Known as a vocal presence, Phaneuf was loud cheerleader in on game nights, but wasnt going to get into specifics about what he liked and didnt like from his perch.

Everyone always says its very easy to be critical from up there, he said. It isnt as quick when youre out there. You see a lot of things, but its pretty hard to be critical up there when theyre on the ice battling.

You come back and try to keep it as simple as possible. Im not going to be running around trying to do stuff that I dont usually do. Im sure I will be taking shorter shifts after being off five weeks. Im coming back to play the way I do, bring what I bring and I cant do anything more than that.

Phaneuf wanted to be back in time to play against his old Calgary Flames team on Wednesday, almost a year ater the multi-player trade, but says that was not his prime motivation to appear about a week earlier than projected.

I wanted to come back as quickly as possible, he said.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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