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Leafs expect to have Bozak back

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TORONTO -- Tyler Bozak isn't interested in watching the Toronto Maple Leafs' first playoff game in nine years from the sidelines.

The Leafs' No. 1 centre went through a full practice Tuesday and expects to play today when they visit the Boston Bruins to open their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series.

Bozak missed Toronto's final two regular-season games with an upper-body injury. He skated briefly Monday but left practice early.

Bozak said Tuesday he felt good and desperately wants to be on the ice for the series opener.

"It's really important," he said. "We've come a long way as a team the last couple of years and especially this year.

"We've played pretty good hockey together as a group and it would be tough to sit back and watch the most important time of the year."

In fact, Bozak has got a head start on his playoff moustache, which he started growing two weeks ago.

"I can't grow much and I have to start a little earlier than a few of the guys," he said. "Hopefully we can go a long way and see how big I can get it."

Having the 6-1, 195-pound Bozak in the lineup is a huge boost for Toronto. The 27-year-old Regina native had 12 goals and 16 assists in 46 regular-season games but was also the club's top faceoff man.

"When you have a player that takes all the important faceoffs for you that's the first place you miss him," said Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle. "We seemed to be at a disadvantage, we didn't start with the puck enough.

"Bozie is a real smart hockey player. He knows where to be on the ice, the puck kind of follows him around and his game is one where he does a lot of the little things that aren't noticed but you notice them when he's not there."

Bozak skated Tuesday with regular linemates Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk and certainly didn't look out of place. Kessel, who spoke with reporters twice Tuesday after declining to do so Monday, was glad to have his regular centre back.

"Bozie has been a big part of our team this year," Kessel said. "He's a great player and I love playing with him."

Toronto (26-17-5) finished fifth in the East to earn its first playoff berth since 2004. But the Leafs dropped three of four regular-season meetings with fourth-place Boston (28-14-6).

Kessel led Toronto in goals (20), assists (32) and points (52) and will make his first playoff appearance since 2008-09 when he was with the Bruins.

The Leafs acquired the 25-year-old native of Madison, Wis., from Boston in September 2009 for 2010 first- and second-round picks and a 2011 first-round selection.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2013 D2

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