Pavel Kubina eager to get back into NHL action with the Toronto Maple Leafs

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A knee injury and a caesarean section complicated Kubina's life for the last five weeks, but now he's ready to play hockey again.

Kubina, a high-profile buy in the free-agent market last summer, strained a left knee ligament in only his fourth game. Leafs fans have barely had a chance to assess the big Czech, who helped the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup in 2004.

"I'm looking forward to being back in the lineup on Thursday," he said after practice Tuesday.

Kubina was supposed to play last Thursday in Boston but got a call from his girlfriend in the Czech Republic that morning letting him know she had to have a C-section. He received a three-day leave of absence from the Leafs, chartered a 10-seater and flew to Ostrava.

He arrived the morning after the birth, carrying seven-pound-one-ounce Teresa into Andrea's hospital room.

"It was an amazing feeling holding her in my hands," he said.

The flight back to Toronto Monday took 10 hours.

"I haven't got the bill yet but it's going to be worth every cent," he said.

He hadn't seen his girlfriend since last summer. He hopes Andrea and Teresa will be able to join him in Toronto in about two weeks. First, there's the Bruins.

"Pav is going to come in and play fewer minutes - probably around 18 minutes - than we expect he'll play in two weeks," said head coach Paul Maurice. "It's going to take him a little while - not the conditioning part of it because he's a hard-working guy - to get his timing and rhythm back."

Aubin will be making a second straight start for the first time this season because Maurice wisely is declining to rush Raycroft back into action. His No. 1 goalie strained his left groin muscle last Thursday in Boston.

"Even if he was 100 per cent healthy, I don't think he was playing Thursday - not in my mind," said Maurice. "We don't want any questions about groins with our goaltenders.

"We're going to leave him (out) until he's not only healthy but has had enough practice so he's strong. Right now, I'd suggest that's Saturday, at the earliest. If he can get through Friday full tilt, he might be all right (to face the Devils on Saturday)."

Maurice said Mikael Tellqvist likely will be the backup Thursday.

Aubin is happy for the work.

"The team is playing well, 7-1 (in the last eight games), and we don't want to stop there," he said. "We want to keep it going."

Raycroft is getting frustrated.

"You try to stay positive," he said. "The normal skating is fine.

"If I was a right-winger I would have played yesterday. It's just some of the little things I have to do to be able to do my job. We'll get to that point."

Meanwhile, Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe were 1-2 in scoring by defencemen in the NHL heading into Tuesday's games.

"That's a huge asset for our team," said teammate Darcy Tucker. "We've pretty much become accustomed to them playing such good hockey, especially when they're out there together.

"They do such great things with the puck, and on the power play they're phenomenal."

They make a contribution off the ice as well, teammates say. Kaberle, a Czech, is the quieter of the two D-men around reporters.

"They're definitely two different guys," said forward Alex Steen. "Brian is a little more talkative.

"I don't know if that's because he's Canadian and has it a little easier in terms of the language than Tommy. Tommy is a funny guy though. Both of them really keep the atmosphere on the team loose and everybody in a good mood all the time."