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Kapanen expected to return for Maple Leafs against Predators

Forward has missed past four games because of concussion

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- Kasperi Kapanen is expected to return to the lineup for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they play the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; FS-TN, TSN4, NHL.TV).

The 22-year-old forward, out since sustaining a concussion in a 3-2 loss to Edmonton Oilers on March 9, is hoping to help the Maple Leafs get back on track following a week in which they went 1-3-0.

"The team's been struggling a little bit now and obviously when you're not playing, it's hard," Kapanen said Monday after practicing with the Maple Leafs for the first time since the injury. "You want to be out there battling with your teammates. We're just going through a rough stretch right now, that's all it is. But it's a new week, we have three games this week and we just have to try to get better and back on track."

Kapanen, who has one assist in his past five games, said slowing down the opponent is key for the Maple Leafs, who have been outscored 23-15 in the four games he missed.

"When you let in that many goals, defensively something is wrong," Kapanen said. "That's something we need to focus on."

Video: BUF@TOR: Kapanen pads lead with shorthanded goal

Coach Mike Babcock, who said Kapanen likely could have returned two games ago but was held out for further precaution, pushed back against the notion that doubt was seeping into the minds of the Maple Leafs, who finished their rough week on Saturday with a 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, who own the worst record in the League.

"Adversity is really important for you in life," Babcock said. "When you don't have any, you think you should get some so you can get better but when you get it, you don't want it. We have it right now, let's pull together, let's dig in and let's get better. But these are important lessons for us as long as we build of it."

In addition to Kapanen being out, defensemen Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott have also been sidelined by injury. Gardiner has missed 10 games because of a back injury and Dermott has missed nine games because of a shoulder injury. Dermott has been skating on his own but hasn't practiced with the Maple Leafs, and Gardiner has not begun on-ice activities. Toronto will also be without center Frederik Gauthier against the Predators and against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday because of a foot injury.

The Maple Leafs (43-24-5), who trail the Boston Bruins by four points for second place in the Atlantic Division, are 5-4-1 since Gardiner has been out.

"Let's not kid ourselves, we're way better when we have all guys on deck but the thing about a team is you have 23 spots and you've got a minor league team," Babcock said. "You're supposed to build the best program you can to have as much depth so you don't miss people. If you have enough, you don't miss a beat and you just keep on going. There are other teams that have done a better job when their players have been out at keeping on going. That just tells you what state you're at."

Kapanen is likely to have new linemates when he returns. He practiced with left wing Patrick Marleau and center Nazem Kadri on Monday. Before being injured Kapanen skated on a line with left wing Andreas Johnsson and center Auston Matthews, but right wing William Nylander, who took Kapanen's place, appears set to remain on that line.

"They're tremendous players. Patrick has played for a long time and he's still kicking and skating with the best of us and Nazem just makes plays and is always heavy on the puck," Kapanen said. "He's such a calm player and easy to play with so it's exciting."

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