History has Leafs bouncing back

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:21 PM ET

 For many years, some would say too many, the Pat Quinn Maple Leafs have tolerated Jekyll and Hyde living in their dressing room.

 Bad performances in big games are almost always followed by exemplary efforts, with no move to tear apart the lineup. The guilty are forgiven, the veterans police themselves and it's on to another 100-point year.

  But this season, it has been particularly hard to understand the wild mood swings on this team. It seems the older they get, the more unpredictable.

 The cumulative defeats, especially to low-ranking clubs, ended up costing them first-place overall in the Eastern Conference. That's part of the reason they are in a dog fight series with the Ottawa Senators instead of drawing the very beatable Montreal Canadiens or New York Islanders.

 Now the Leafs have no choice but to show their true colours tonight at the Air Canada Centre in Game 2, where a loss would likely be fatal. You'd have to go back to the 1942 Stanley Cup final to find a Toronto team that lost the first two at home in a best-of-seven series and came back to win.

 That '42 squad actually lost Game 3 in Detroit as well before staging the only such rally in Stanley Cup final history.

 In Game 1, just five days after playing near-flawless hockey with the same lineup against the same team, Toronto looked flustered and lost composure in a 4-2 loss.

 NOT GOOD

 "Unfortunately, it has been a Jekyll and Hyde thing, and that's not good," winger Tom Fitzgerald said yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "We call it a brain cramp. Whether it was struggling to get our legs because we'd have five days off or not I don't have the answers. But we weren't the same team that played them last week, that won in Buffalo the night before or that beat the Bruins in Boston before that.

 "But we've always been resilient and now we have to put that to the test, because it sure means something now."

 Quinn cited the Sens' fluke tying goal in the first period and a controversial second-period slashing penalty to Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe as Game 1 turning points. But he was dumbfounded by his own team's suicidal tendencies.

 "The surprise to me was abandoning our game plan against the trap," he said. "We all know, including the veterans, that's the style of game that favours Ottawa. But coulda, woulda, shoulda ... we have to change how we play, veterans notwithstanding. Our guys tried hard but it was too individual."

 Captain Mats Sundin, virtually shut down by the Sens along with first-line mates Gary Roberts and Mikael Renberg, was unruffled yesterday with the prospect of being down 2-0.

 He didn't think the Sens were as bad as the 6-0 Toronto win a week ago suggested, nor does he believe his team was outclassed.

 "Whether we get a lead or not in the next game, we have to stick to our guns," he said.


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