Leafs meshing at just the right time

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 5:02 PM ET


  The Maple Leafs are singing together in perfect pitch and it is a wonder to behold.

 "Just keep it going," Bryan McCabe said when asked what the Leafs needed done in Philadelphia today to return home for a potential series clincher on Tuesday.

 Fair enough.

 The series is tied 2-2, but blessings have begun to fall from the sky for the Leafs, who are getting their bounces by the pound.

 Recovering rapidly from his groin injury, Mats Sundin is exercising greater control of the series shift by shift. With two goals and a crossbar, he set himself up as the go-to guy of the series in Game 4. The Flyers can and will counter with Keith Primeau, but they have not been able to deliver a similar game-breaking scorer.

 Joe Nieuwendyk's return from back problems would be especially providential since, with the last line change belonging to Philly coach Ken Hitchcock, Sundin will be wearing Primeau like a suit today. That leaves Nieuwendyk, a superb two-way player, to poach the Flyers' second- and third-line centres.

 If that transpires, the Leafs will likely shuttle either Ron Francis or Clarke Wilm to the press box, and you have to admit, the Leafs at least are steadily improving the calibre of their scratches.

 The Leafs aren't leaking anywhere right now. The second defensive pairing, Tomas Kaberle with the ever-dependable Ken Klee, hummed along in Games 3 and 4 at the ACC. Kaberle was poor in Game 1, better in Game 2 and excellent in the two home games.

 "I feel like I'm playing better," Kaberle said. "It's not one guy, everyone is playing better, but I think I'm playing hard."

 The lessons Kaberle largely ignored through the regular season -- how to handle bigger players and how to compete -- have taken hold the past three games.

 "The important thing is to keep moving my feet. It's no good for me to try to hit guys that are 220, 240, but I can get between the puck and the player."

 There are plenty of examples for Kaberle to emulate, such as Klee and the marvelous Brian Leetch.

 "You can look anywhere in this dressing room and see a player going hard," Kaberle said.

 You don't win, the saying goes, without your best players.

 Largely misunderstood is how you don't thrive without improvement from the lesser lights.

 Aki Berg's game has gone from soft as pudding to airtight. His defencemate, Bryan Marchment, has been as judicious as Andy Taylor. The drop in quality in the pairings, prodigious at times during the Ottawa series, has ebbed dramatically.

 Tie Domi's game wreaks of confidence. He is holding on to the puck like a genuine goal-scorer and moving briskly without it, all the while pursuing like an angry terrier.

 Darcy Tucker scored twice at home and irritated the hell out of anyone within shouting range which, you should know, extends from the Air Canada Centre to the Don Valley.

 Robert Reichel, once so widely despised that his name became a pseudonym for surly fourth-liner, is playing tenaciously and gaining yards of ice.

 Wade Belak, a member in good standing of the Loogan Line along with Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky, snapped heads back in Game 4 with two terrific passes out of his zone and did everything right. The creation of the Loogans stripped the Flyers of their most prominent advantage, the perception of a size advantage.

 Hard to think they will play smaller in Philly.

 Something is going on.

 "Four lines," Tucker said.

 "That's what we've done for most of the year and everybody is making sacrifices. We have so many guys that have been captains of teams here all you have to do is look around to see what it takes."


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