NEW YORK (AP) - If noted New York Rangers agitator Sean Avery made disparaging remarks toward Jason Blake the last time they faced off, the Toronto forward never heard them.
A Toronto radio report following the teams' previous meeting last month in Canada said a pregame scuffle between Avery and Leafs counterpart Darcy Tucker was fueled by a comment that Avery made toward Blake regarding his current battle with leukemia.
FAN 590 reporter Howard Berger had claimed Avery made ``cancer-related remarks'' to Blake, citing an unidentified Rangers player. Blake was diagnosed with a rare form of the disease in October but has continued to play while being treated.
Avery vehemently denied making any such comment, and the station issued an on-air retraction of Berger's report earlier this week.
``I don't know. He didn't say anything to me,'' Blake said Thursday of Avery before the Maple Leafs played the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. ``I never even ... I don't know. I guess someone else heard it.
``There has got to be some sort of limit. Players like that, that's why they're here. They've made it to this point because they've done something well. If that's what it is, then that's what it is. He does an excellent job of what he does.''
Avery missed the rematch Thursday, sitting out his fourth straight game following wrist surgery, and Tucker also didn't play because of a muscle strain in his upper back near his shoulder. Avery is believed to have initially hurt the wrist when he fought Tucker in the Nov. 10 game.
The teams are scheduled for one more meeting this season, Dec. 29 in Toronto, and Avery could be back in action by then. Without either instigator on the ice Thursday, the other players were expecting a standard Eastern Conference tilt.
``I had nothing to do with last game so I don't know what kind of circus is going to be tonight,'' said rugged Maple Leafs forward Wade Belak, who was scratched from the two earlier games against the Rangers. ``I think it'll be just a normal hockey game.
``With Avery out, it probably cuts the mood down a little bit so we can actually go out there and concentrate on playing hockey instead of all the sideshow antics.''
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