Sky Line needs lift

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:23 AM ET

 You have to look through the haze to find the Maple Leafs' Sky Line in the playoffs.

 While veteran centre Joe Nieuwendyk has a team-high five goals in eight games, his bigger and younger wingers -- Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky -- have combined for five assists and have yet to complement their father figure.

  CROSSROADS

 Nieuwendyk, 37, was credited with helping the two Eastern Europeans try to become bona fide NHLers when the careers of each player was at a crossroads this season.

 Nieuwendyk said he has been trying to rebuild their confidence levels.

 But making it work in the playoffs is another story.

 Combined, Antropov and Ponikarovsky have played 41 post-season games with the Leafs but have scored just two goals, both by Antropov in the 2000-01 playoffs.

 "I talk to them all the time about how to be more effective," Nieuwendyk said after the Leafs' 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-final.

 "I think we can generate more. I think it's important for those two guys to use their size (Antropov is 6-foot-6, 230 pounds; Ponikarovsky 6-foot-4, 220). That's how it all starts for us, it seems. (Game 1) was a good lesson."

 The Flyers didn't bowl the Leafs over in a clear-cut size advantage as many suggested. But the Flyers' winning goal was typical of the Sky Line's bad luck in the game.

 Mark Recchi knocked Nieuwendyk off the puck just as he was going to clear it, allowing Marcus Ragnarsson a screen shot from the point that struck Antropov's leg and fooled goaltender Ed Belfour.

 "It's a little frustrating now that it has got to seven or eight games this year I haven't scored," Antropov said. "But the chances will come. We just have to shoot the puck more.

 "Philly isn't as really as physical as they were a couple of years ago. They've added more European players. But when we get a chance, we want to hit their best guys."

 Coach Pat Quinn conceded Antropov and Ponikarovsky could have been better but felt the team as a group has to improve.

 "They aren't big point scorers, but they are guys who can occupy some space and finish checks," Quinn said of Antropov and Ponikarovsky.

 DAY OFF

 "They were a little off but we had more than those two off their games."

 Nieuwendyk maintained the company line after Game 1 that the Leafs were not outclassed by the Flyers and would take full advantage of an extra day off and a video session.

 "It was a game we could have had," he said.

 "Once we started matching their work ethic, it seemed they were running around in their end a bit."


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