Division dominance worth plenty

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:51 AM ET

The Maple Leafs have to start some serious housekeeping in their Northeast Division dormitory.

Heading into tonight's game in Boston -- a rare chace to sweep a home-and- home from a lodge member -- the Leafs' division record is 24-22-3 since

Inability to do better has had long-term ramifications for them, who lost the division to Boston by a point the last time (104-103) and thus gave up home-ice advantage in the second round to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Since then, captain Mats Sundin has been among those urging the Leafs to go the extra mile in the regular season, win the division and make life easier in the spring.

Four of five Northeast clubs were knotted at 12 points last night before the lagging Bruins played in Carolina.

NEW SKED

Spicing up the race is the new National Hockey League schedule, which pits rivals against each other eight times a season.

"Look at our division now and it's probably the strongest in the NHL," forward Matt Stajan said yesterday. "These games are huge. If you want home ice, only two in our division can get it."

Boston already is in difficulty, with a record of 0-5-1 in the Northeast, its lone point coming in a shootout against Toronto on Monday night.

"At the end of the year, you look back at that stat and it might be the difference," Stajan said. "But they (Bruins, Senators, Canadiens and Sabres) are all rivals, they're all good battles.

"We just played Boston, so they'll try and get back at us."

In the past few years, the Leafs have struggled in- house, mostly against the Habs, Sabres and Sens, though their losses to Ottawa have been proven meaningless compared to four straight playoff wins.

"You have to be good in your own division or they could really put some nails in you," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "The good part is that important games like (tonight) are usually played with fire and emotion.

"We want to finish as high as we can. First place means a (sure) playoff spot."


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