After spending the last five weeks watching hockey, Dion Phaneuf
is ready to play hockey.
After suffering a nasty skate cut to his left leg, the Maple Leafs captain will return to the lineup Thursday when Toronto hosts the Philadelphia Flyers
(7 p.m. ET, TSN).
Phaneuf hasn't played since Nov. 2, when the skate of Ottawa's Peter Regin
cut him deeply; emergency surgery found the cut had nicked a knee ligament, and Phaneuf also suffered an allergic reaction to some medication, which further delayed his recovery.
However, Phaneuf has been skating with the Leafs for a week, and Thursday pronounced himself healthy and ready to go.
"I feel good," he told reporters following Thursday's morning skate. "I'm going to play tonight and I'm looking forward to getting back. It's been long enough. It's not easy being hurt, not a lot of fun being out and watching. I feel really good."
Phaneuf said he has completely moved past the grizzly injury and feels no pain in his leg.
"You don't go out there thinking, 'Am I OK?' You go out there knowing you're OK and I know I'm OK," he said. "I've been cleared, I practiced for a week, and I feel good."
The Leafs certainly could benefit from the big defenseman's presence -- they are 5-5-1 with Phaneuf, 5-8-3 without him. He has 4 assists and a minus-6 rating in 11 games while playing an average of 22:44 per game.
That includes Wednesday's 5-2 loss to the Penguins. Phaneuf said he could have played in that game, but with Flyers in Toronto on Thursday followed by a visit by the Canadiens on Saturday, Phaneuf was held back a day.
"It wasn't the easiest schedule to come back to playing, back-to-back, but I'm ready to go and excited about it," he said.
The Leafs and Flyers should enter the game feeling about the same -- both played and traveled to Toronto on Wednesday night. While the Leafs were losing in Pittsburgh, the Flyers fell at home in a shootout to the San Jose Sharks
"You come back, you don't try to do too much, try to keep it as simple as possible. I'm not going to be running around and doing stuff I don't usually do. I'm sure I'll be taking short shifts. Being off for five weeks isn't easy, but I feel good and ready to go."
-- Dion Phaneuf
Phaneuf said the key for him tonight will be just playing the same game he's always played.
"You come back, you don't try to do too much, try to keep it as simple as possible," he said. "I'm not going to be running around and doing stuff I don't usually do. I'm sure I'll be taking short shifts. Being off for five weeks isn't easy, but I feel good and ready to go."
Phaneuf said the Leafs are in a crucial part of their schedule. After the home games with the Flyers and Canadiens, they play three games in Western Canada -- including his first visit to Calgary since the Flames traded him to the Leafs on Jan. 31.
"We have to win games and get points," Phaneuf said. "It's a critical time for our team."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com