For the first time in nearly three weeks, the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs had something to smile about on Wednesday.
Dion Phaneuf team's picked up its biggest win of the year on Tuesday, a come-from-behind victory over the Nashville Predators. On top of that, Phaneuf was back with the club and walking without crutches after having staples removed from a nasty gash on his leg sustained two weeks ago in a collision with Ottawa Senators forward Peter Regin.
"It's great to be back around the rink," Phaneuf told reporters. "Back rehabbing and getting better."
Phaneuf still has a bit of a limp in his stride as he continues to work his way back from the injury, but considering how bad it could have been, that seems a small price to pay.
"When you pull your pant leg up and you can see inside your leg it's not a very good feeling," Phaneuf said.
The 25-year-old said he knew right away that it was a serious injury but that he was unsure of the severity at the time.
"When you are sitting there on the trainer's table and the orthopedic surgeon says ‘We gotta go to the O.R.' (operating room), you're definitely wondering," said Phaneuf.
Now comes the hard part as the Edmonton native tries to get back in game-shape as quickly as possible.
"I've definitely gotten a lot better over the last couple of days," said Phaneuf. "Getting off of the crutches was a big step. Once you start walking, it's a big difference after you've been off of your legs for a few weeks."
Despite the optimism, Phaneuf said he remains unsure exactly when he will be able to return to the Leafs lineup.
"One day at a time right now," he said. "I can't really give a timeline. They told me four-to-six weeks. If it's four weeks, that's great."
Head coach Ron Wilson said that the team would not rush Phaneuf's return but that he was happy to see his captain back with his teammates.
"He's still quite a ways away but he feels like he's a part of the team again," said Wilson. "He's just got to keep working hard, stay positive and try and speed up the healing process."
Phaneuf said that it was extremely difficult watching the Leafs during their recent losing streak and feeling the hopelessness that comes along being unable to do anything to help pull the team out of its funk.
"It's tough being hurt and it doesn't make it any easier when things aren't going well for the group," Phaneuf said. "You wish that you could help. You wish you could be out there to try and contribute to helping them, but I think our team has shown resilience through it all."
Despite the news that starting netminder J.S. Giguere would be out of the lineup for at least a week with a groin strain sustained on Tuesday, there seemed to be a renewed sense of optimism amongst the team after the comeback against the Preds.
"Everyone has had the right attitude, no one got down on each other," said Phaneuf. "Everyone stuck together and it was a big win last night. To get down 3-0 early in a game, it's tough to come out of. It showed a lot of character from our group and it was definitely a big win for our team."