Could Saturday be the day?
Will it be the first time in the 2013-14 season the Toronto Maple Leafs are able to ice the team it envisioned playing the year, but hasn't been able to because of injuries and suspension?
The answer is probably no.
No. 1 goaltender Jonathan Bernier skated
, but did not participate in serious drills and will likely continue to remain on the sidelines with a groin issue.
However, centre David Bolland, who has been out since Nov. 2 and is recovering from a severed Achilles tendon
, skated on a line between left-winger Mason Raymond and right-winger David Clarkson. There is a possibility Bolland will play Saturday night when the Maple Leafs host the Montreal Canadiens (CBC, CBCSports.ca
, 6:30 p.m. ET).
"Bollie is obviously getting closer," coach randy Carlyle said. "He has practised with us now for almost a month. It's getting close to a decision whether he's going to be able to play for us in the next game or the game after. We're day-to-day now. We went from week-to-week to day-to-day."
Bolland seemed to be progressing well, but his improvement tapered off a few weeks ago. He is again at a point in his recovery where it seems only a matter of time before he plays. In the 15 games he played prior to the injury, Bolland had six goals (including two game-winners) and 10 points.
"We'll see how it goes," Bolland said. "It's still day-to-day, but things are going upwards."
Not a man of many words, Bolland did say he has grown frustrated at putting in so much work to get back from the injury with very little reward. He said it is little things - the ability to turn and make little movements - that have held him back.
"A few weeks ago we started to have little doubts when this was going to go upwards and when things would start getting positive, we were getting a little doubtful," Bolland admitted. "But things are getting out there and things are working. It is the little things I have done in the gym that have helped this get stronger."
Bolland said when he gets back in the lineup, there will be a period of transition.
"That first shift will be a little tough," he said. "I don't think you can do enough bag skating and work on the ice with the team; it's a little different when you get on the ice with guys you don't like and guys that want to hurt you when you go into the corner. You think about the first shift. The feet won't be there. The wind won't be there. The stick, hopefully, will be."
Suddenly on the bubble
Not too long ago, the Maple Leafs appeared to be a lock to be one of the eight Eastern Conference playoff participants. However, three straight losses against Eastern foes has changed that. Toronto is now a bubble team.
The Leafs currently hold the first wild card spot with 80 points in 71 games. They are three points behind Montreal and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division and Tampa Bay has a game in hand on both teams. Toronto is three points ahead of the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings, and Detroit has two games in hand on the Maple Leafs and Rangers.
"We've given ourselves a tougher task," Carlyle said. "We just have to win our share of games; don't worry about everybody else is doing, win our share of games. We have to find a way to get our team to how we are capable of playing."
Carlyle added that his team needed to recreate the desperation it displayed through the second half of Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Lightning
at Air Canada Centre.
Veteran left-winger Joffrey Lupul said it is not surprising to him the team is in a dog-fight to make it to the post-season.
"That's just the way it goes with the three-point games and with the teams that are getting farther out of the picture playing desperate hockey and climbing back in," Lupul said. "It seems like it's always like this. Last year it seemed like we had a pretty good year and it was down to us clinching in the second last game of the year. Everything is tightening up on both sides. It's good for fans...it's not good for us."
"Each game there have been times we have poured it on and played well," Lupul said. "We've got to get back to basics and play a full 60 minutes. It's not getting an easier. We know we're going to get Montreal's best game."
Keeping tabs of shots on goal
The Maple Leafs have been out-shot in most games this season, but have an explosive offence that has helped them win their share of games. Shots on goals in the past few games has not been an issue and suddenly the team's inability to score goals has hurt them.
"We've had our issues as far as allowing the opposition far too many shots against," Carlyle said, "but wouldn't you know it in the last three games we have out-shot our opponents and have not had the success.
"Sure we'd like to have more shots on net and we don't want to pass up opportunities to shoot the puck and drive it to the net, but shots on goal are not the end-all."
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