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First Round

Sparks returns to Maple Leafs, could be backup in Game 1 against Bruins

Goalie fills in at practice, will travel with team with Hutchinson absent

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- Garret Sparks practiced with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday and the goalie will travel with the team for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Boston Bruins on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, SN, NESN).

Sparks was replaced as the backup by Michael Hutchinson on Friday after going 2-8-0 with a 3.37 goals-against average and .895 save percentage in his past 11 games. The intention was to have Sparks work with goaltending coach Steve Briere away from the Maple Leafs for at least 10 days, but Hutchinson missed practice Wednesday and may not be available for Game 1 to be with his wife for the birth of their child.


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"Really [Sparks is] not back here sooner in my mind," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "He's filling in for a day or two here while Hutchinson and his wife welcome their child. In the meantime, the 10-day program he was on, he is still on. We won't deviate from that.

"He's just been doing the work. He's been given an opportunity to do the work and he's been doing the work. He's trying to be a real good pro and getting after it. He wants to get his game back."

It's not known who will back up Frederik Andersen in Game 1. Neither Sparks nor Hutchinson, who went 2-3-0 with 13 goals allowed in five starts with Toronto in January, has played in a Stanley Cup Playoff game.

"That's a good question," Babcock said. "Obviously being there for the birth of your child and supporting your wife is more important than hockey, so he needs to look after the family part first. He'll be available as soon as he can be."

Sparks, who helped the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League win the Calder Cup last season and was voted the top goaltender in the AHL, signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Maple Leafs on March 5. He acknowledged that his play needs to improve.

"I'm fine, it was a good couple of days of work and it's good to be back here," Sparks said. "I'm in agreement that I haven't played to the degree that we all know I can play. Extra work isn't a bad thing. It's not about me right now, it's about this whole team and whatever I've got going on, it's on me to figure out, and I think I've done a good job of that."

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