A positive start

LANCE HORNBY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

As Karl Malden would say "don't leave home for three weeks without your best goaltender." Or good penalty killing. Or work boots.

By the end of this month and 11 more road games, the St. John's Maple Leafs might not resemble the spunky team that bounced back to defeat the Hamilton Bulldogs 3-2 last night before almost 11,000 at Copps Coliseum. But almost everyone looked fresh last night as the Baby Leafs attempt to nail down their first American Hockey League playoff spot in years.

Brad Leeb had two goals, with Matt Stajan setting up both, and new linemate Ben Ondrus also finishing a plus-2. Leeb had the winner, with rookie Jeremy Williams firing the tying goal on the power play. Protecting the Leafs from some early defensive miscues and on five of six power plays was Jean-Sebastien Aubin, now 8-3-0, allowing just 12 goals in the past 250 shots.

"We know how valuable this trip is," Leafs coach Doug Shedden said. "Especially falling behind in this place where they trap, trap and trap some more."

Stajan, following up on a game-winner over the 'Dogs at home on Wednesday after a partial benching, took a couple of hits to create Leeb's goals.

"You've got to do the (physical) things to score when finesse isn't working," he said. "We know if we come out of this trip with a good record, we set ourselves up for the playoffs. We need the wins now, because at the end of trip we'll be tired."

Last night kicked off 12 games in 24 days, a trek from Hamilton to Edmonton (for two games), Grand Rapids, Chicago, Milwaukee, Hershey, Syracuse, Binghamton,back through Hershey and a pair in Cleveland. The majority will be by bus and six matches are back-to-back.

Shedden's team has been without offensive defencemen such as the injured Carlo Calaiacovo and has been using forwards such as top scorer David Ling and Williams, a late-round draft pick in 2003, at the point on power plays.

"Williams is a pure shooter, with an NHL shot that will beat a lot of NHL goalies," Shedden predicted.

Jonathan Ferland and Tomas Plekanec scored for Hamilton, which was trying to narrow the playoff gap to four points on the Leafs, but watched it balloon to eight. Aubin stopped Plekanec on a partial breakaway late in the game and watched Trevor Daley's shot clank off the crossbar with nine seconds to play.

Shedden wants Mikael Tellqvist to play in Edmonton, now that he's over a back injury. Aubin, still working on a 25-game AHL tryout contract, won't be upset.

"I'm sure the coach will find something to please both of us," Aubin said.


Videos

Photos