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января 2004 года.
Antropov shines again - Toronto Star
Leaf shows he can play when needed
To those who watch Nik Antropov and find him to be a maddening riddle, you can take solace in the fact his coach feels pretty much the same way.
On a team wracked with injuries to key forwards, Pat Quinn made a certain statement about the towering Kazakh last night by starting him on the Maple Leafs' fourth line between two grunts, energetic minor-league call-up Clarke Wilm and No.2 enforcer Nathan Perrott.
Safe to say that wasn't the vision with which Antropov was drafted six years ago.
But just as you get ready to wonder if the Leafs are about to dismiss Antropov as a major part of their team, he goes out and teases again with his potential.
Last night, that tease included an intelligent screen on the first goal of the game, and a slapshot off the stick of Bryan McCabe in the final minute of the first period that Calgary goalie Jamie McLennan might have heard but never saw as it whistled past.
The latest Antropov tease also included a goal two minutes into the third during a four-on-four situation that stood up as the game's winner, a score in which he used his impressive wingspan to corral a loose puck many players couldn't have reached to slide it inside the left post.
Sixteen seconds after that, of course, Antropov took a dumb high-sticking penalty, the kind of foul that really makes you wonder.
But later in the period, he snapped a breathtaking cross-ice feed through a crowd of players that almost allowed McCabe to complete his hat trick.
"We still have a player who has considerable upside," said Quinn of the confounding Antropov afterwards. "He made some steps tonight. But it's going to be slow going."
McCabe, to be sure, was the star for the Leafs with two goals, although Ed Belfour's unflappable puckstopping and puck-moving was a helpful component in beating a good Flames team that might have been tied 2-2 with the best team in the Eastern Conference six minutes into the third had Jarome Iginla not fanned on loose puck in the crease.
But in the wake of the Leafs' 4-1 triumph, the player who ended up creating the most questions about his possibilities as a significant playoff performer was once again Antropov. He looked as though he was going to be just that last spring against Philadelphia, but the second serious knee injury of his career ended his Stanley Cup tournament after three games.
Interestingly, Quinn views Antropov's possibilities as not necessarily offensive.
He said the Leafs were hurt badly by the Flyers in last year's series when Toronto forwards provided insufficient support for defencemen down low in the defensive zone, allowing the Flyers to create chance after chance.
"Nik could be a healthy addition in that area," he said.
Staying healthy, of course, has been the problem for Antropov, who came back from that knee injury to Leaf camp last fall and promptly hurt his shoulder in a scuffle during the Leafs' first exhibition game in Sweden. He then injured the shoulder again Oct. 27 versus Atlanta, so his season has been nine healthy games followed by 20 on the injury shelf followed by his current streak of 16 consecutive matches.
"Not enough games played between injuries," said winger Gary Roberts when asked about Antropov. "When you haven't played a lot of hockey, it's tough to be sharp. But we know he could be a major force for us."
Heading into a two-game set this weekend against the Flyers, a team already missing centre Keith Primeau and that probably will also be without pivot Jeremy Roenick following last night's bottle throwing incident in Buffalo, there may be room once again for Antropov to show he can be a significant factor down the middle.
He might do just that. Or he might be an insignificant fourth liner.
Only the riddle himself knows.