Injured Leaf Nikita Zaitsev scratched for Game 1 vs. Capitals


Nikita Zaitsev's Stanley Cup playoff debut is on hold.

The Maple Leafs rookie, who is second only to fellow defenceman Morgan Rielly in average ice time among Toronto players, missed a second straight day of practice Wednesday and will sit out Thursday's playoff opener at Washington (CBC,, 7 p.m. ET) with an upper-body injury.

Zaitsev, 25, was hit into the end boards by Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno at the end of the first period of Sunday's 3-2 loss to Columbus in the final regular-season game for both teams.

Martin Marincin, who has played four games since late January, will be in the Leafs' lineup for the Russian blue-liner against the NHL-best Capitals. He was partnered with Connor Carrick at Wednesday's workout.

Following Sunday's game, Toronto head coach Mike Babcock replied "not" when asked if he was concerned Zaitsev wouldn't be in the lineup when the puck dropped for the team's first playoff appearance since 2013.

Babcock was hopeful Zaitsev could play in Game 2 on Saturday, if hardly certain after the defenceman sat out a second straight practice on Wednesday morning.

"I don't know 100 per cent for sure," said Babcock. "I thought he was going to skate today, [but] he didn't skate today so obviously he wasn't ready to go."

His absence is crushing to the Leafs defence, which was hard-pressed at full-strength even to slow down the NHL's third-highest scoring team.

Polak, Bozak practise Wednesday

Zaitsev, who reportedly is closing in on a seven-year contract with the Maple Leafs, was a workhorse during the regular season, averaging 22 minutes one second of ice time. Rielly was the team leader at 22:10.

Zaitsev spent his entire first season in the NHL on Toronto's top pair, matched up against first lines, killed penalties and quarterbacked one power play unit. He finished second on the team's defence with 36 points.

The good news Wednesday was the return of defenceman Roman Polak and forward Tyler Bozak at practice.

Polak skated alongside Jake Gardiner after sitting out Tuesday with a lower-body injury. He left Sunday's game after being hit near his right thigh.

Matt Hunwick and Rielly were the Leafs' other defence pairing on Wednesday. Hunwick had a solid finish to the regular season, pushing nearly 55 per cent possession over the final 20 games.

Juggling defence pairs

Babcock hadn't determined whether he'd stick with Wednesday's combinations or if he'd mix them up again. His challenge is finding the lineup which matches up best against the Capitals.

"It's not just like you're playing in the regular season, you're going to play the same team over and over again," Babcock said.

"I don't think it's a big adjustment at all," Polak said of the shuffling. "We kind of rotated [defence partners] during the game usually so we're used to playing together."

Babcock has to decide which pairing is best suited for matching up with the Caps' ace No. 1 line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.

Bozak was back after missing Tuesday's practice for body maintenance purposes. The eighth-year centre scored 18 goals and 55 points this season, including a career-high 37 assists.

Babcock said goaltender Frederik Andersen would be ready to start Game 1 after sitting out Sunday's finale.

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