Thirty minutes before the Leafs were due to practice, a sweatsuit clad skater drifted onto the ice, alone but for a bunch of pucks.
He drifted to centre and slapped a puck …100 feet, under the crossbar.
Mats Sundin was back.
Now, whether he gets to play against the Buffalo Sabres at Air Canada Centre, that’s another question.
Sundin skated gingerly for about 20 minutes, weaving and shooting, moving backwards and forwards to test the slight groin pull he incurred Wednesday in the Leafs win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Five points behind the Flyers with 10 games to play, the Leafs desperately need the great Sundin who has been averaging two points a night over his last nine games.
But pinned down after practice, the Leafs captain could not handicap his chances for the media.
“I haven’t really tried to push it 100 per cent so it’s tough to say, but it feels better than it did right after the game.”
Sundin injured himself early in the game in Philadelphia.
“Philly had a three on three,” Sundin said. “I had (Jeff) Carter on my outside. I tried to change gears and I felt something in my groin.”
Sundin will be a game-time decision.
“I’ll try to go 100 per cent tomorrow morning and I will see how it feels,” he said. “Groins are one of those things where you can walk around and not really feel anything. It needs a skating motion.”
If the Sabres, beset by injuries to their defence, lose tonight at home against Carolina and then Saturday in Toronto, the Leafs could vault all the way to ninth in the conference standings and that would be a giddy state of affairs for the Leafs, written off in every corner, including this one, just a few weeks ago.
Coach Paul Maurice said the fact Sundin left the game in Philly early was a minor blessing.
“Clearly, we’ve won a game without him and the guys know we can do it,” he said.
Expect Maurice to move Alex Steen and/or Nik Antropov into the number one centre spot if Sundin is a no-go.
“That’s why it’s called a team,” Antropov said. “We can back up each other. Obviously he’s a huge part of our team and hopefully he can make it on Saturday, but if not we just play together as a group and see what happens.”
Steen said he was up for it.
“I have played all three positions. It (centre) is a different position but it felt pretty comfortable last game.”
Leafs winger Darcy Tucker said the club was prepared to be inspired.
“The way Mats has played for us, it’s been pivotal. There have been some games where he dragged us back from the brink. Look at the win against Philly the other night. He scored the first goal, won a huge face-off, and scored the second. Having him back would be a big thing.”