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(Bruce Bennett/2009 Getty Images)
(Bruce Bennett/2009 Getty Images)

Leafs Beat

Lombardi, Pacioretty return to ice <br>as Leafs, Habs renew rivalry</br> Add to ...

Matthew Lombardi hasn't played in an NHL game since Oct. 13, 2010, a span of almost exactly a year.

Max Pacioretty has been out since March 8 after taking that controversial hit from Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.

Both will finally be back on the ice Thursday as the NHL season opens, returning from major concussions at a time when head injuries are front and centre in the league.

One of the newest members of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Lombardi played in one preseason game last weekend. Pacioretty played in four for the Montreal Canadiens.

So while Thursday won't exactly be their first time in game action, they admitted they'll be nervous and trying to keep their injuries well in the back of their mind.

"I don't know if it's going to be hard," Lombardi said. "It's going to be a good night for us. I'm excited. I'm happy to be back. I'm healthy and I'm going to put all that other stuff behind me and just worry about tonight."

"I'm ready to move on, with my life and my career," Pacioretty said. "I know I'll get asked [when they play Boston] The media all ask how my health's doing ... But in terms of the incident, I'm ready to move on. Prove to people that I'm a player that can step up and help us win games."

Both players could be key parts of their teams this season.

Lombardi's pencilled in on the Leafs fourth line to start, as his conditioning is still poor enough that he was completely out of gas after playing 17 minutes in Saturday's preseason game. Once his fitness returns, however, he's expected to chip in offence and play on the penalty kill - something few expected possible when he came over from Nashville in a trade in early July.

Pacioretty, meanwhile, is looking to finally play his first full season in the NHL. Prior to his injury, he was well on his way to being an impact player and has earned a spot on the Habs second line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.

"It's a good feeling knowing they expect a lot out of me," he said.

Pacioretty added that he highly approves of the changes the NHL has made to the glass near the benches, where he was driven into the barrier by Chara, causing his injury. The league has mandated rinks use new curved glass around the barrier at centre ice this season.

"I saw it for the first time in Montreal and then I saw it here today," Pacioretty said. "It made me realize how strange it is no one thought of it earlier. It seems like a much safer playing environment there ... There still is a divider there and there still is the ability to make a vicious hit there and cause injury. I'm just going to be more aware of my surroundings. They did a good job of making it safer, but it's still a bad area of the ice."

As for the uncertainty surrounding their health given all of the reports coming out about the long-term effects of concussions, Lombardi said all players can do is take advice from their doctors and try to live their lives normally.

"Answers are hard to get," Lombardi said. "That's kind of what I found. You can never really get anything concrete in terms of how things are going to play out because no one really knows ... It's still unknown. It's an injury that no one can put their finger on and say 'you've got this, it'll take this long.'

"When your career's over? I'm confident I'm putting that all behind me. I'm not going to worry about that. It is what it is. I don't know. I don't really have answers."

Leafs lineup

Frattin - Grabovski - Kulemin Lupul - Bozak - Kessel Steckel - Dupuis - Armstrong Brown - Lombardi - Rosehill

Gunnarsson - Phaneuf Liles - Schenn Gardiner - Komisarek

Reimer Gustavsson

Scratches: MacArthur (suspended), Connolly (injured), Kadri (injured), Franson, Orr

Canadiens lineup

Cammalleri - Plekanec - Kostitsyn Pacioretty - Gomez - Gionta Darche - Desharnais - Cole Moen - Engqvist - Weber

Gill - Subban Campoli - Gorges Spacek - Diaz

Price Budaj

Scratches: Emelin, Betts (injured)

Full audio from both coaches is below.

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