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Jason Blake anticipates being same player despite leukemia diagnosis @NHLdotcom

TORONTO (AP) -Jason Blake knew the bad news a couple of weeks before telling teammates he was battling leukemia.

But once he went public Monday, Blake ended a stressful period of time that began when a blood test during a preseason physical suggested something wasn't quite right.

Since then, he's had to wrap his mind around the diagnosis of chronic myelogenous leukemia - a highly treatable and rare form of the disease - come to terms with what it meant to his life, his family and his career, and find a way to move forward.

The announcement Monday, along with Tuesday's pregame skate and his inclusion in the lineup that was to face the Carolina Hurricanes that night were all steps toward a return to normalcy for the 34-year-old married father of two.

"There is a lot of pressure that's been lifted," Blake told a large throng of reporters after practice. "There was two weeks there I kind of knew, but there was still a little uncertainty. Now that I know, now that obviously everyone knows, I think there is a little bit of a weight lifted.

"I haven't been myself, just for the fact of what's been going on. Now that I know everything is going to be fine, I can move on and yeah, I'm ready to go."

Blake will take oral medication every day to counter the disease, and doctors said the treatment shouldn't hamper him on the ice. After a brisk skate Tuesday morning, Blake promised to remain the speedy pest he's always been.

"This is not going to affect the way I play," he said. "I'm still going to be the little agitator that I am. And you know what? Things in life are handed to each person and each person deals with them accordingly. This is something I've got to deal with and this is something (where) everything is going to be fine."

Blake also doesn't want any special treatment from his opponents.

"You have to play him the same way," Hurricanes forward Cory Stillman said. "I think out of respect he'd want you to play hard against him, too."

Even Carolina coach Peter Laviolette, who coached Blake for two seasons with the New York Islanders and on the 2006 U.S. Olympic team, met with him Monday to talk things over. Laviolette said all sympathies are forgotten once the puck drops.

"Jason Blake is a good hockey player and if you're talking about on the ice, you're talking about business and I would expect our guys would play him hard and play him tough," he said. "I know Jason personally and I know he's going to play us hard and play us tough."

Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice won't change the way he uses Blake, meaning the winger can expect about 22 minutes of ice time each game.

Blake's teammates continued to rally around him Tuesday. Despite the initial shock of his announcement, the news that Blake will be able to keep playing helped bring things back to normal.

"Any time you hear that word (cancer) panic sets in. Your mind starts racing, but he was composed," forward Darcy Tucker said. "We had our doctor explain it to all the guys and understand that he was going to be continuing down a good path as long as he kept up with his medication, and we're all thrilled he's able to do that."

Blake is looking to move on with his life and this season with his new team.

"I'm going to go about my everyday business and I'm not going to let this bring me down," he said. "I feel in my heart that I'm a strong person and I wouldn't have gotten where I'm at today if it wasn't for the determination to get where I want to go.

"This is just another hurdle and we're going to be fine, move on and hopefully do good things this year."

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