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Tavares could return to Maple Leafs lineup against Flyers

Forward has missed six games with broken finger, return should energize power play

by Dave McCarthy / Independent Correspondent

TORONTO -- John Tavares is hoping to play against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SNO, NBCSP, NHL.TV).

The forward has missed the past six games with a broken finger sustained Oct. 16.

"We'll evaluate how today went," Tavares said after practice Friday. "I saw the doctor this morning too and just kind of consulted with where things are at. I'm definitely getting closer and hopefully I'm good for tomorrow. I'm definitely right there so we'll evaluate things and then figure out for tomorrow, but hopefully that is the case."

Tavares practiced Friday for the second time since being injured and was at center on a line with Trevor Moore and Mitchell Marner. He began shooting pucks for the first time since the injury Monday.

"I want to be back as soon as possible," Tavares said. "You want to be out there competing and playing and helping out your teammates. This is what makes the game special, being out there and being in it. It's not easy to watch. Definitely hopeful tomorrow is the day."

Coach Mike Babcock said Tavares' return would make the Maple Leafs a more dangerous team, particularly on the power play. Toronto is 2-for-20 (10.0 percent) on the power play in six games without Tavares in the lineup; they were 7-for-26 (26.9 percent) in eight games with Tavares.

Tavares participated in power-play drills Friday in the slot position on a unit with Marner, Matthews, Andreas Johnsson and Morgan Rielly.

"It makes us a better team," Babcock said. "Suddenly we've got two centers plus a man in the middle on the power play. There hasn't been a left-hand shot in the middle so we haven't been keeping anybody off Matthews that way, so that would make a huge difference to us. It gives us a second group on the power play because then Nylander is on that group, so it gets that group going. I think all in all it would be a huge plus. It is what it is though."

Tavares, who has seven points (three goals, four assists) in eight games, said he has been pleased with how he has felt through two practices this week.

"With contact and whatnot, it's been pretty good," he said. "It's hard to say specifically because practice is one step, but a game is another level so it's just making sure we're really feeling comfortable and confident that I can go out there and play my game and be effective at that level that you need to play at."

Matthews said there is no question that Tavares' return will help Toronto immediately.

"I mean, would you rather play with him or play without him?" he said. "I think it's a pretty obvious answer. He brings a lot to the table. He's our leader, our captain, he's been a dynamic player since he stepped in the League. So I think you'd much rather play with those guys than without them."

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