PITTSBURGH -- Jake Gardiner has said he has felt well enough to play for a couple days now. Wednesday, he got the official green light from the doctor -- and from his coach.
Gardiner, the gifted young Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman who has been out since Dec. 8 with a concussion, is expected to make his season debut in the Pittsburgh Penguins' home opener Wednesday, the Leafs said on their website.
"I feel good," Gardiner said after the morning skate but before he received medical clearance to play. "Excited to be back with the Leafs."
At that point -- about 12:30 p.m. -- Gardiner did not know if he would be able to play.
"I'm just waiting on what the doctor says and what [coach Randy Carlyle] says," Gardiner said at the time.
But Gardiner said his symptoms had waned to the point that he had felt well enough to play "for a couple days now." Final doctor's approval apparently came later in the afternoon. Gardiner was activated and in the lineup; the Maple Leafs assigned defenseman Korbinian Holzer to the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies.
The return of Gardiner figures to provide a boost for a Toronto squad that is the only remaining NHL team yet to score an even-strength goal this season while splitting a pair of 2-1 decisions. Gardiner, a 22-year-old first-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, was the NHL's leading scorer among rookie defensemen last season with seven goals and 30 points in 75 games.
Gardiner, a member of the NHL's All-Rookie team last season after averaging 21:35 of ice time per game, was injured while playing in a game for the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League.
Holzer appeared in his third NHL game in Sunday's 2-1 loss to Buffalo, registering three hits, two shots on goal, two blocked shots and a minus-1 rating.