TORONTO (CP) - Alexander Mogilny and Darcy Tucker will be back in the lineup when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.
As the bodies start to return to Toronto's lineup, the Leafs can focus on their ultimate objective down the stretch: home ice in the playoffs.
The Leafs have been fifth in the Eastern Conference for quite a while, unable to rope in Philadelphia for fourth. Now the Flyers are charging and threatening to pass New Jersey for the Atlantic Division lead, meaning Toronto could face the Devils in the first round.
|Alex Is back after time away form the team.|
The brainiacs who are calling in to radio talk shows in Toronto would like to see the Leafs drop to sixth so they can draw the Southeast Division winner, either Tampa or Washington.
The problem with that is that Toronto, as No. 6 seed, would likely be without home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs unless the No. 7 or No. 8 teams pull off an upset.
Home ice played a key role last spring in Toronto winning Game 7 in both the first-round series against the Islanders and the second-round series against the Ottawa Senators.
"It's still better to have that seventh game at home,'' Leafs coach and GM Pat Quinn said after practice Monday. "That's where it seems to me to be important. We went into New Jersey a couple of years ago and it clearly played into their favour.
"And we had a couple of seventh games last year that went in our favour. So that's where the real advantage is, not necessarily early in the series.''
Another flaw in the theory that sixth place would be better for Toronto is what happened last year. The Devils ended up sixth after sliding down the stretch and faced No. 3-seeded Carolina in the first round - a dream matchup most thought. Instead, the Hurricanes dumped New Jersey in six games and made it the Cup final. Home ice, as it turns out, also helped the Hurricanes in beating Montreal and Toronto en route to the Cup final.
"You want to be careful what you wish for,'' Quinn said. "We know no matter who we open against it's not going to be easy. These teams are pretty darn close on both sides, the West and the East.''
Quinn hasn't set his eyes on the Flyers just yet with three weeks left in the season.
"First place is locked up with Ottawa running away with it,'' Quinn said. "The rest is up in the air. While it looks like we know who we're going to play, I'm not going to bank on it yet. . . .
"Philly can catch New Jersey and I'm sure someone can catch us from behind as well.''
Quinn had everyone on the ice at the Air Canada Centre other than Doug Gilmour (knee), Gary Roberts (groin) and Phil Housley (broken foot).
None of those three met with the media Monday.
Gilmour is out six weeks and Housley hopes to make his debut by the end of the month.
Roberts is a little more mysterious. The official line is that he's out seven to 10 days with a torn groin muscle.
"A good rest for Roberts and a long time to repair for Gilmour,'' was how Quinn described the time frame for both players.
Mogilny was back with his teammates after suddenly leaving the team in Calgary last week due to family illness. He didn't elaborate after practice Monday.
"It's personal. There was a sickness in the family so I had to be back,'' Mogilny told a swarm of media.
"It's private,'' he said later when another reporter tried to find out more information.
Tucker is back following his five-game suspension for attacking the Ottawa bench two weeks ago. On the bright side, says Tucker, at least he'll be fresh for the playoffs.
"I took the positive out of the situation,'' Tucker said. "Obviously rest at any time of the year is going to help you out. But especially the stretch right before the playoffs is nice.''
Tucker was skating on a line with Nik Antropov and Owen Nolan at practice. Mikael Renberg saw duty with Mats Sundin and Mogilny. That left Travis Green with Shayne Corson and Tom Fitzgerald and the fourth line had Robert Reichel (back from injury) with Jonas Hoglund and Tie Domi.
If home ice is the No. 1 objective than staying out of the penalty box is a close second. The Leafs continue to rack up penalty minutes, a trend that could prove costly in the post-season.
"If we get six to eight penalties a game we're not going to win many games,'' says Mogilny.
Quinn is equally frustrated.
"I think sometimes there are some things that have happened that are in the back of the minds of the people that are calling the games,'' Quinn said. "We're the third-highest in the league which absolutely astounds me. I don't know what that is.
"We look at the tapes all the time and we don't necessarily agree. I don't know what we can do, just hope to try and exercise the discipline that's necessary to stay out of the penalty box. We deserve some penalties but to me it shouldn't have been so one-sided like it's been in the last while.''Note
: Housley will wear No. 96 with the Leafs. It's the same number he wore in Washington in 1998 when the Caps reached the Cup final.