WILMINGTON -- P.J. Axelsson's foot can't seem to make up its mind. That makes the prognosis for the Bruins left winger increasingly problematic.
The problem may be how to slow him down.
According to the most recent estimate, Axelsson is supposed to be sidelined until the new year because of the hairline fracture atop his left foot.
According to Axelsson's diagnosis, he might not be sidelined through a new day; he could be back on the Bruins' second line with center Marc Savard and right wing Glen Murray tonight against the Montreal Canadiens at TD Banknorth Garden.
"Maybe, if it feels as good tomorrow as it did today," Axelsson said after practicing for a half-hour with his teammates yesterday at Ristuccia Arena. "Hopefully."
In truth, "hopefully" probably means "remotely." But even in Axelsson's lexicon, it's no longer synonymous with "absurdly."
Though he was the only Bruin in a red sweater yesterday -- which meant he was either off limits for contact or positively bursting with the Christmas spirit -- Axelsson no longer looked like an outpatient on the ice. His progress since the previous Friday, when he skated for the first time this month, was remarkable. The improvement from 24 hours previous was considerable.
"It feels much better than a couple of days ago," he said. "We'll see how it is tomorrow. I pushed it a little harder today. We'll need to do a couple of more tests. It's still tough to try to turn on it really quick. I have to see if I can put pressure on it in games."
There's only one way to find that out, of course. The prospect of such a clinical study prompted something of a medical debate between Axelsson and coach Dave Lewis.
Axelsson betrayed his partisanship when he was asked if he now really is day-to-day -- something he'd claimed, outrageously, was the case last week.
"Not playing really [stinks]," was his cryptic, and somewhat profane, answer.
Lewis indicated his preference when he was asked if he expects Axelsson to return against the Canadiens.
"I don't know if he's 100 percent," said the coach. "I want him healthy. He looks better, but there's still some things he can't do. There's no sense rushing him back. We want to be careful. If we can give him an extra day, three days, five days . . ."
Axelsson already had offered his opinion of the coach's input: "It's tough for him to feel how my foot is."
Lewis trumped him with coach's prerogative: "It's not up to him."
While the AMA reviews the testimony, this seems the likeliest forecast. Axelsson, who sustained the injury when he blocked a shot against the Florida Panthers Nov. 20 and has missed nine games, won't be in uniform against Montreal. But he should be back sometime before the Bruins' holiday trip -- from Columbus to Chicago to Nashville to Toronto -- concludes against the Maple Leafs New Year's Day. In fact, an appearance against the Blue Jackets Tuesday would seem eminently plausible.
At any rate, the inescapable conclusion is that Axelsson's injury -- if not his antsiness -- is almost cured.
Savard cost an apparent fortune -- $20 million for four years -- when the Bruins signed him as a free agent during the summer after he collected a career-high 97 points with the Atlanta Thrashers last season. Nobody is requesting refunds anymore. The passing wizard has 6 points in his last two games, 12 in his last six, and his assists on both goals in Boston's 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at the Garden Thursday night lifted his career total to 300. For the season, he has 43 points, including 32 assists, putting him on a 107-point pace. But it's his artistry rather than his statistics that is truly bedazzling. "He has vision, good patience, and he lets things develop," said Lewis. "Those are the three things playmakers do. And he does the unexpected. He's very creative. A player like that is hard to defend against." . . . Look for Tim Thomas, author of Thursday's shutout, to make his 26th appearance in 27 games tonight. "I haven't decided yet," said Lewis, "but I think it's going to be Timmy." With his redoubtable play, Thomas (15-8-2, 2.96 goals-against average) is making it increasingly difficult for Lewis to find work for backup Hannu Toivonen. Lovely predicament. "You look for players to get in a rhythm," said Lewis, "and when you can find that rhythm, it's a good thing."