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A welcome sight for Leaf fans Tuesday: Tomas Kaberle on skates @NHLdotcom

TORONTO (CP) - Tomas Kaberle was back on skates Tuesday for the first time since being decked by New Jersey's Cam Janssen on March 2.

But the Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman, who sustained a serious concussion, still isn't sure when he'll back in the lineup. "It's nice to be back on the ice, it's been a difficult week for me the last week," the Czech native said after skating by himself at Air Canada Centre.

"There are no headaches but obviously I do not feel myself quite yet," Kaberle added. "The main thing is there are no headaches. I will see the doctor tomorrow for a little rest and go from there."

Kaberle said he's improving, but will be careful not to rush his return.

"I have to be careful with my head," said the 29-year-old blue-liner. "I don't want to make it the last season of my career."

Poolies and Leafs fans are dying to know if he'll be back in time for the playoffs if the Leafs make it, but Kaberle said he just doesn't know at this point.

"I'll go day by day, I can't tell how I feel an hour from now or tomorrow," said Kaberle, who has 49 points (9-40) in 65 games this season. "I can't tell right now.

"But I would like to be back as soon as possible."

The returns of forwards Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood have helped make up for the loss of Kaberle, particularly Wellwood filling the creative void on the power play.

But Kaberle is Toronto's No. 1 all-around defenceman, second on the team in ice time at 26:08 behind only Bryan McCabe.

Head coach Paul Maurice was happy to see Kaberle back on the ice Tuesday but remains concerned about the player's health.

"It's a good sign, it means we haven't taken a step backward," Maurice said. "We're more afraid at the negative right now."

Kaberle said he's had trouble filling his days during his recovery.

"My family was here, on the way back from Carolina (where his brother Frantisek plays for the Hurricanes)," he said. "I've been walking outside with my mom, twice a day."

While Kaberle skated alone before his team took the ice ahead of Tuesday night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Leafs centre Michael Peca went for a whirl on his own after the team got off the ice. The 32-year-old Toronto native hasn't played since suffered a broken leg Dec. 22. It was his third time back on the ice.

"It's been good, slowly progressing every day," he said. "Hopefully I'll get back in the lineup sooner than later ...

"But really it's tough to tell."

The 11-year NHL veteran won't rush his return.

"When I feel like I can withstand the rigours of the game, that's when I know I'll be ready," Peca said.

"Also knowing you don't want to come in just when you think you're ready and there's someone more capable of doing the job than you."

Maurice said he's amazed at how tough NHL players can be, recalling his days behind the Carolina bench.

"I go back to Rob DiMaio playing with three cracked ribs," said Maurice. "You can barely roll out of bed with something like that and watch them get hit in a game and he got up and kept going.

"I remember Jeff O'Neill played eight games, one against the Leafs back in the Gardens, on a cracked knee cap. Gary Roberts checked himself out of the hospital, flew to Jersey, showed up at the pre-game meal and I believe he was the first star."

Then there was the late Steve Chiasson. Maurice remembers a time when he could barely lift his arm off a stationary bike one morning but told the coach he could play that night.

"I said 'Fine, if you can get through the warmup you can play,"' recalled Maurice. "Then he was first star in the game with a goal and an assist. And he had a torn labrum sewn up at the end of the year.

"I'm always amazed at what they can play with. If the doctors feel they're not at any risk to do greater damage, these guys play. It's a tough sport."

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