Leafs duo is dynamic

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

Everyone knows it's hard to be separated from family at Christmas.

But despite having new defensive partners during even-strength situations last night at the Air Canada Centre, power-play brothers Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle reunited for four special-teams points and the 2-1 winning goal over the Boston Bruins. Cue the cheesy yuletide music and a two-day holiday break for the Leafs, before playing host to the New Jersey Devils on Boxing Day.

Ed Belfour, pumped by a pre-game ceremony honouring his milestone 448th National Hockey League victory, stopped 25 shots for the win after allowing 14 goals in his previous two starts.

McCabe's blast, with 12:08 to play in the third period, broke a 1-1 tie and allowed the up-and-down Leafs to split the home-and-home series with Boston after a 4-1 defeat the night before.

"The forward lines switch all the time, so there is no reason we can't switch the defensive partners," said McCabe, who opened the game paired with rookie Carlo Colaiacovo. "We were able to spread things around a bit and get everyone here working together. Obviously, we haven't been great in our own zone, but that's obviously not just the (defence's) fault.

"Tomas and I are still going to be on the power play together, so it's no big deal."

Kaberle was with Ken Klee, while Aki Berg and Alexander Khavanov were paired.

Leafs' coach Pat Quinn spoke earlier in the day of the heavy workload McCabe and Kaberle were putting in --more than 28 minutes apiece per night with almost 50 games still to go in the National Hockey League schedule. Last night's ice time was down slightly for both men.

"We've talked about it to get some balance and not wear the two of them out," Quinn said.

Two of the evening's three goals were in 5-on-3 situations. McCabe's winner beat Hannu Toivonen just as the first of two Bruins in the box had stepped on the ice.

Sergei Samsonov was the only Bruin to foil Belfour, finding the short side in the second period.

Often criticized for passing too much, Kaberle delivered a beauty on to the stick of Darcy Tucker for a one-timer to tie the game about four minutes later. McCabe's 30th assist, compared to 37 in all of 2003-04, helped the play along.

In a pre-game ceremony, Belfour was given a standing ovation for passing Terry Sawchuk on the NHL's career victories list earlier this week. Leafs' Hall of Famer Johnny Bower gave him a framed copy of the scoresheet from Belfour's first game in 1990 and from his 448th win on Monday against the Isles.

EVEN HIS DOG

Belfour's son Dayn, wife Ashli and even his dog, Sunny, a Boston Terrier with a No. 20 doggie sweater, took part in the ceremony. There were recorded tributes from two of Belfour's heroes, Tony Esposito and Vladislav Tretiak, and Toronto captain Mats Sundin gave him two airline tickets on behalf of the club.

Quinn tinkered with success by pulling Mariusz Czerkawski and his three-game scoring streak off the No. 1 line and replacing him with Chad Kilger. Czerkawski skated with big men Jason Allison and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

"We have to get more traffic, simple plays, with more pucks on the net," Czerkawski said before the game. "Simple shots can work sometimes."

But Quinn was irked by 27 missed shots last night, more than twice Boston's total.

"Maybe we should take some more target practice," he said.

REPORT CARD

C+ Forwards: Occasional puck-handling problems aside, some of the Leafs' new lines had their moments.

A- Defence: Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle had a combined four-point night. New pairings couldn't erase all the bad habits, but they didn't allow any 5-on-5 goals.

B- Goaltending: Belfour gave up just one goal on a potentially disastrous 5-on-3, and somehow found a way to cover the net on the low screens.


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