The play of captain Mats Sundin has been a primary reason behind the Toronto Maple Leafs' strong play of late. Continuing that hot streak will be more difficult now that their top center is expected to miss three to four weeks.
The Maple Leafs play their first game this season without Sundin as they visit the Boston Bruins in a Northeast Division matchup on Thursday.
Toronto (9-5-3) learned on Wednesday that Sundin, the team leader with 19 points, would be sidelined because of a torn ligament in his right elbow. He sustained the injury during the first period of the Leafs' 4-1 victory over Philadelphia on Monday and played the rest of the game.
"He won the faceoff for the winning goal in the third period, but he was obviously under some great deal of discomfort after the game," general manager John Ferguson said.
Sundin had three goals and six assists in the last five games, helping Toronto go 5-1-0 during that span.
This isn't the first time the Leafs will be without their captain for an extended time. Sundin missed 12 games with a facial injury after a puck struck his left eye in last season's opener, but that team had skilled veterans Eric Lindros and Jason Allison to help offset his loss.
It will now be up to veteran Michael Peca and young forwards Matt Stajan and Kyle Wellwood to pick up the offensive slack.
While Sundin will be out of the lineup, the Leafs hope to have defenseman Pavel Kubina available on Thursday. It was originally thought that he could miss the entire season after he sprained his left MCL on Oct. 10.
"I've been skating with the team since Monday," Kubina said. "I feel better out there. Thursday against Boston, that's my goal."
Two days after handing Buffalo its first regulation loss of the season, Toronto scored three third-period goals and Andrew Raycroft stopped 40 shots to beat the slumping Flyers.
This will be Raycroft's first game against his former team. He won the Calder Trophy with the Bruins as the NHL's top rookie in 2003-2004 when he went 29-18 with nine ties and a 2.05 goals-against average, but started poorly last season, was hampered by a right knee injury and finished 8-19-2 with a 3.71 GAA.
The Leafs acquired the 26-year-old on June 24 for Finnish goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask, Toronto's first-round pick last June.
"He's very excited," Jordan Neumann, Raycroft's agent, told the Boston Globe. "He wanted to close the page on last year and start fresh. He couldn't have asked for a better opportunity. To his credit, he's taken advantage of it."
Since allowing seven goals in a 7-2 loss at Ottawa on Oct. 26, Raycroft has allowed only six goals while winning four straight starts.
Raycroft makes his return to Boston with the Bruins (4-6-2) struggling to find a reliable starting goalie of their own.
Hannu Toivonen, who began this season battling Tim Thomas for the No. 1 job, was sent to Providence of the AHL on Tuesday after going 2-3-0 with a 4.20 GAA. Thomas hasn't been much better with a 2-3-2 record and 3.47 GAA.
"Get some rhythm to his game and build his confidence," Bruins coach Dave Lewis said. "That's really important for young players. I think it's a great opportunity for him to go down, play some games, and build himself back up to the level I think he can be at."
Boston had trouble keeping up with Atlanta's speed and took 13 penalties that led to four power-play goals in a 5-3 road loss on Monday.
"We were guilty of reaching," said Lewis. "We were guilty of being passive rather than aggressive."
Boston defenseman Brad Stuart could be back in the lineup Thursday after missing five games with a broken finger.