The Last Word

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

On the menu at the Air Canada Centre: Illusion. The Canadiens beat the Maple Leafs 4-3 in overtime last night. Technically, that pushes the Leafs losing streak to eight games. Technically.

Last night brought a fierce rivalry that wasn't, a heartbreaking loss that, combined with Atlanta's loss, actually lifted the Leafs from ninth to a tie for eighth spot in the East.

Not much is what it seemed. Not much is as it was.

The 668th meeting of the Canadiens and Leafs brought together two dispirited rivals, the Leafs losers of seven in a row, the Canadians beaten in four of their past five.

The new math of a point for both teams in a tie and an extra for the overtime winner makes for good optics and happy standings but it is a kick in the Adam's apple for teams on the skids.

WANTED TO GET TWO

"Sometimes it feels like a loss," said Leafs goalie Mikael Tellqvist, adequate in a benchmark start ahead of the slumping Ed Belfour. "We just wanted to get two points. It's okay to get one point at home but we wanted to get two."

There were no fights, which was fine, but a lack of fire, which was curious.

Rivalries depend on the fortunes of the teams. Match two teams mired in deep funks, and you get a Saturday night not unlike any other at the old folks home.

Was it just mid-November that Jeff O'Neill scored to stun an electric house as the Leafs beat the Habs 5-4 in extra time in Montreal?

The new NHL was a revelation that night, nine goals where there once was five, two traditional rivals lighting up a Saturday night.

"In Montreal, it was just after the lockout and right at the start of the year," Kyle Wellwood said. "Everybody was excited. Both teams were looking at the playoffs."

So much has changed. O'Neill for one has shown himself to be a one-dimensional shooter. Leafs coach Pat Quinn gave him two shifts in the third period and seven minutes over the evening. Ed Belfour, unassailable as the starter, is now in limbo.

Injuries to the club's blueliners meant the Leafs defence last night was home to Staffan Kronwall, Jay Harrison and Andy Wozniewski. Safe to say the patrons last night have not yet developed a fierce loyalty toward Andy Wozniewski.

The familiar story angle of anglo Toronto versus cosmopolitan, French-speaking Montreal plays like a tin flute. The Leafs are the fiefdom of Swede Mats Sundin.The best emerging player, Alex Steen and the goalie are also Swedes.

The Canadiens are captained by the magnificent Finn Saku Koivu and deploy seven more European skaters. I don't know whose uniforms they paint onto those little metal table hockey players in Europe, but I'm guessing it's not the Habs and Leafs.

Meanwhile, back home in the new NHL, thin rosters and new accounting means cataclysmic losing streaks follow runs of good play. A loss in overtime still results in a loss, even if the team leaves the building with a point.

It makes for a streakier league. The Leafs eight-game slide is by no means unique. Eleven other teams this year have endured losing streaks of six games or more.

Programmed to look at things in the black and white of wins and losses, hockey players haven't yet grasped the grey of the new accounting system and there is a real danger of a perceived loss leading to some actual ones.

It doesn't matter if it's your plus-minus, goals, assists -- it's about winning," Klee said . "We got a point tonight but we need two and we know it."

It all brings to mind a Chinese adage of hidden subtlety and ruefulness: May you live in interesting times.


Videos

Photos