TORONTO - An anxious swarm of media watched intently as members of the Toronto Maple Leafs took part in their final full practice before taking on the New York Islanders.
Most eyes that scanned ice Wednesday afternoon were looking to see if any of the Leafs wounded players were giving away clues as to whether or not they would play in Thursday night's game at Air Canada Centre.
Robert Reichel, Shayne Corson, Garry Valk, Mikael Renberg, Gary Roberts, Curtis Joseph and Dmitry Yushkevich all looked good and appeared to be on the right road to recovery even though no guarantees can be made.
Reichel, who is coming off a knee problem, skated without issue but reported that he would decide on gameday. Corson wasn't quite as coy about his return saying, "I'll likely play." Valk wasn't favouring his shoulder and should be back in action.
Renberg reported that the rest did his hamstring good. Roberts tested his rib injury with contact and seemed to be happy with the results but he'll be a game-time decision.
"The big thing is whether or not I think I can play without tearing it open again. That's what I'm trying to avoid," Roberts said.
| Roberts will probably play in Game 1. |
The veteran winger was paired up with Renberg and Roberts during practice and will play alongside Sundin when he's able.
"A playoff time you like to see the big guys around him (Sundin). During the season it's like rugby some nights in what the opposition is allowed to do to Mats. If we have hockey rules and big guys with him maybe he'll get some more room," Coach Pat Quinn said.
Joseph wasn't named the starting goalie but barring a horrific setback he'll be between the pipes. The only player that is doubtful is Yushkevich. The defenceman hasn't received medical or legal clearance to play with his blood-clot condition.
Joseph has missed more time than every Leafs except Yushkevich. His ability to rebound from the psychological effects of the broken bone in his hand will be a huge part of how well the Leafs do. Extra padding has been placed in his glove, including an air pocket for even more protection.
The Islanders know that Joseph's hand is a little wonky and may try to go after it by crashing the net or taking an extra swat at the puck while he's trying to cover the puck. The attack wouldn't surprise Quinn.
"Even during the season they (Islanders) tried to bump him. In the first games of the season when we played against them it was not good. Quite frankly it was poor job by the officials and could have erupted. If this was the 70's we would have had to empty the benches," Quinn said.
"It's not just infringement, it's physical contact. They done it in the regular season so you'll expect that they'll have a little book about how they can best take advantage of what they know as a good goaltender."
Quinn isn't as worried about Joseph's long layoff because of his ability to get going early.
"We know he comes out of training camp hot. He's done that the four years here. So if he comes in fresh like that it would be nice to have that same sort of thing happen."
All players want to play at this time of the year but looking at the bigger picture instead of rushing back and risking re-injury is something they have to be aware of. That's the principle that will guide Roberts and it one that Quinn is using in holding Yushkevich back.
"All the 16 teams that are in it plan on going a long way. You can't let your emotion take over if you're not ready and that's where you have to ask your players to use their judgement," Quinn said.