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Leafs' Armstrong, Liles close, but not ready yet

by Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH -- Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson must make some lineup decisions very soon, perhaps as early as Wednesday.
But neither defenseman John-Michael Liles nor forward Colby Armstrong, both of whom are close to returning from injuries that have kept them out for more than a month, will play Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
Armstrong has been out since Dec. 19 with a concussion that he initially tried to hide from the team. He had played in only four games since returning from a 23-game layoff with a high ankle sprain. Liles, an excellent puck-moving defenseman, has been out since Dec. 22 with a neck injury and concussion-like symptoms.
The Maple Leafs emerge from the All-Star break ninth in the Eastern Conference with 55 points, but with plenty of opportunities to pick up ground in a hurry -- starting with the home-and-home series against Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Wednesday. Only 13 of their remaining 33 games are against teams currently below them in the standings.
The Penguins, winners of seven in a row, have 60 points.
"All the games are going to be important. It's really tight in the standings, every point is going to be huge for us, but I see every game as another game," goaltender Jonas Gustavsson said. "I don't put more focus on a game like this (Tuesday's). I always try to prepare myself 100 percent to win; you know every game is important."
Toronto won its final two games and three of its final four before the break, but Gustavsson said the week-long break from games arrived at a good time. Gustavsson has won seven of 10 starts while playing in all but one game since Jan. 3.
"I think it was good for me, as for everybody else, to get time to rest and get ready again," Gustavsson said. "I tried to think not so much about hockey -- I had some light workouts to stay in shape -- but other than that, I tried to keep my mind on other things."
Toronto won its only previous game against Pittsburgh, 4-3 on Oct. 29. The teams also play again in Pittsburgh on March 7.
The Maple Leafs' probable lineup:
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi - Tim Connolly - Nazem Kadri
Mike Brown - David Steckel - Joey Crabb
Dion Phaneuf - Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Carl Gunnarsson - Mike Komisarek
Jonas Gustavsson
James Reimer
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