Leafs get third victory in a row

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

In the wake of the Montreal Massacre one week ago, the Maple Leafs took a long hard look at themselves in the mirror.

Much like their legions of fans, they obviously didn't like what they saw.

The easy way out would have been to wallow in self pity and wave the white flag of surrender, especially after being humiliated by a combined 11-3 score during those pair of losses to their longtime rival, the Canadiens.

Instead, the Leafs decided to send a message to their many detractors.

They have not given up.

Not on beleaguered coach Pat Quinn.

Not on embattled general manager John Ferguson.

And not on their playoff aspirations, fading as those might be.

Since suffering those two devastating setbacks at the Bell Centre, the Leafs have roared back with a vengeance, posting consecutive victories over the playoff-bound New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres.

None was more impressive than the 7-0 thumping they administered to the Buffalo Sabres last night, Toronto's fourth victory in its past six games.

"It looked pretty grim coming out of Montreal," said Alexei Ponikarovsky, the game's first star with a goal and two assists. "We had too many penalties and couldn't overcome it.

"Every guy had to realize what it took to do better. And since then, it seems to be working."

Unfortunately for the Leafs, who play host to the struggling Sabres again tomorrow, it might be a case of too little, too late.

HOT STREAK

Even with its recent hot streak,Toronto remains in 11th spot in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind the eighth-place Tampa Bay Lightning. The Leafs trail the ninth-place Atlanta Thrashers by two and the 10th-place Florida Panthers by one.

But they are far from tossing in the towel, as the Sabres can attest.

Buoyed by J.S. Aubin's third consecutive victory and seventh career shutout, the Leafs posted their most lopsided victory since drubbing the Thrashers 9-1 on Oct. 14.

Aubin's 3-0 record is the best start to a Leafs career by a goaltender since Damian Rhodes went 6-0 more than a decade ago.

"It has been fun," Aubin said. "I always say that timing is everything and I've just come in when the guys are going good.

"I mean, when you are up 4-0 after 10 minutes, all I had to do was keep my focus."

With the capacity crowd of 19,434 at the Air Canada Centre figuring some kind of April Fool's Day joke was being played on them, the Leafs exploded for four goals in a span of 4:19 early in the first period.

Goals by Jeff O'Neill, Ian White,Tie Domi and Ponikarovsky eclipsed the Leafs' previous mark for fastest four goals this season of 7:19, which they accomplished in a 9-6 victory over the New York Islanders on Dec. 19.

White's goal was the first of his young NHL career.

"This is what I've always dreamed about," he said. "I feel very comfortable out there. Things are going very well right now."

Antropov, Ponikarovsky, with his second, and Matt Stajan rounded out the scoring for the Leafs.

But with kids like Stajan, White and Alex Steen showing a never-say-die attitude, at least the nightmare the team suffered in Montreal is well behind it.

REPORT CARD

A Forwards: For the third consecutive game this heavily criticized group showed a lot of jump and speed, two things that have been missing for much of the season.

A Defence: Whether Buffalo's moribund play had a lot to do with it, we're not certain. But we can say that the defence kept the speedy Sabres to the outside and cleared rebounds when need be.

A Goaltending: Does J.S. Aubin know he'll become a cult hero in this town if he keeps this up? Three consecutive wins and his seventh career shutout certainly are impressive numbers.


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