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Maple Leafs get Versteeg back against Rangers

by Dave Lozo / NHL.com
NEW YORK -- Right wing Kris Versteeg will return to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup for Wednesday night's game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Versteeg missed two games with an upper-body injury but practiced Wednesday morning. The timing of the injury was especially tough for Versteeg, who had 2 goals and 4 assists in his last four games before leaving the lineup.

"It's really frustrating when you feel your game has come a long way, especially this season, to get hurt," said Versteeg, who has 12 goals and 19 assists in 41 games after registering just 2 goals and 5 assists in his first 15 games. "That's not something you want."

The Leafs are 4-1-1 in their last six, but were 4-0-0 during Versteeg's mini-hot streak. It's been a struggle all season for Toronto, which enters Wednesday's game 18-21-5 and 12 points out of a playoff spot.

It's a far cry from when the Leafs last played at MSG. They left with a 4-3 overtime victory on Oct. 15 and a 4-0-0 record. It was downhill from there until this recent run.
 
Versteeg said the Leafs have been playing within themselves and minimizing their mistakes in their last handful of games, and it's resulted in victories.

"We have a lot of skill and I think we use that when the time is right," Versteeg said. "We know when we get away from our game plan too much, that's when we create too many turnovers and that's when other teams are going to make us pay."

A matchup with the Rangers, who play a tight-checking, grinding style that lives for goals off turnovers, will be a formidable one for the Leafs.

"This is going to be a game where we have to play a simple game because the Rangers have a great attack off turnovers," Versteeg said. "This is going to be a game that really tests us tonight and how we've played over the last six."

It was just three weeks after Versteeg won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks that he found himself on a conference call discussing his trade to the Leafs. He was beaming with optimism about his new home, saying he felt the Leafs shared a lot of the characteristics not with the Blackhawks team that won the Cup, but the one he joined three years prior.

Through the first half of this season, Versteeg still feels the same way.

"I definitely do," Versteeg said. "It's a team where three years ago when I was with them, I was an up-and-down player. It was a lot like it. A lot of young guys coming in and out of the lineup just like that year, a team where we were in the 10th position and really trying to work into the playoffs. It's really similar to the team three years ago."

Versteeg believes despite their place in the standings, the Leafs are headed in the right direction.

"Right now, I love it in Toronto," Versteeg said. "I love the fans. The organization's been great to me. What we have to do now is get the fans bumping again. They've always been behind us, but when they start winning, that's when it's extra special. We have to try to create that atmosphere again.

"Obviously we're not in the playoff picture the way we want to be. I think we've made a lot of good strides."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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