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Leafs' Phaneuf expected to return vs. Flyers after missing month with injury

02/25/2015 02:17 EST | Updated 04/27/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf is expected to return to the Toronto lineup on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers after missing a month with a hand injury.

Phaneuf took part in another full practice Wednesday and said he's as ready as he's going to be to play.

"I feel that I'm at a point that I'm comfortable and strong enough to come back." Phaneuf said. "It's been a little bit longer process than I originally thought, and with being off for the amount of time that I was, I have that excitement to get back into real game action."

The defenceman was injured in a fight in Ottawa on Jan. 21 and hasn't played since, going through a frustrating setback a couple of weeks ago that delayed his return. Phaneuf said it was disappointing to be so close to playing before having to get off the ice and rest the injury.

"I started to practise probably two weeks ago on the road and then I aggravated it and there was some more swelling," the 29-year-old defenceman said. "When that happens obviously I had to see the doctors and the specialists again, and they felt it was best to take a step back and to let it recover."

Interim coach Peter Horachek noticed more enthusiasm in practice and in the locker-room with Phaneuf on the verge of returning. He expects it to be a "boost" to a team that'll take any positives it can get at this point of the season.

Horachek will manage Phaneuf's minutes, hoping the captain plays closer to 22 minutes than 26 or 27.

"That's still a lot for most people, but we'll have to watch and see how he's performing and how he is," Horachek said. "Sometimes you'll lose your timing a little bit. You can't get in practice what you get in a game, so we'll have to be smart about it. But we'll watch him closely."

Phaneuf should be back on the power play, which has missed his shot especially since Cody Franson was traded to Nashville. At even strength, the anticipation is he'll be paired with Korbinian Holzer, with Petter Granberg coming out of the lineup to make room for Phaneuf.

The top defensive pairing of Morgan Rielly and Roman Polak will likely draw the matchup against Philadelphia's top line of Michael Raffl, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, but Horachek said Phaneuf will get some quality ice time, as well.

Note — Centre Zach Sill is expected to make his Leafs debut against the Flyers after being acquired in the trade that sent Daniel Winnik to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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