Leafs should lose against Sabres but ...

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

Just about everything points toward a Maple Leafs loss this evening. The smokin' white-hot Buffalo Sabres are in town, winners of eight in a row on the road and 15 of their past 17 overall.

The Leafs, on the other hand, have been bitten badly by the injury bug, with five regulars out of the lineup. Quite apart from that, they can't put the puck in the ocean just now.

So, no, this isn't going to be guaranteed win night at the Air Canada Centre. Not by a long shot. But one thing coach Pat Quinn is more than ready to guarantee is that his team will, in the immortal words of Bobby Clarke, "Take the shortest route to the puck and arrive in ill-humour."

That's just an obscure way of saying the Leafs, if nothing else, will compete. Sounds kind of trite doesn't it? As pro athletes, you tend to expect nothing less than a competitive spirit, night in and night out at an average salary of more than a million bucks a man. But, with a lot of teams, it isn't always there.

"Some nights we won't play artistically or with terrific discipline to our system but you know you're going to get a lot of effort," said Quinn yesterday, after spending about 15 minutes updating his club's injury report.

The determined nature of his team is a great source of pride for the Leafs coach. It is a trait he often gravitates toward when talking about his team's strengths. Over a coaching career that spans almost 30 years, he has seen a lot of teams with various traits, both good and bad, and it's clear he admires this one's competitive spirit.

"I don't think this team is unique by any means but the guys we've had here have been competitive people," he said. "It's one of the assets we value with a bit more weight when we're evaluating guys to become Maple Leafs.

"The guy who is going to work can usually beat the other guy even if he's more talented, if the other guy doesn't want to compete as hard."

Three years ago, Quinn had a hockey team he thought could take it all the way to the Stanley Cup. A withering array of injuries sabotaged that run but what stands out in the memory of anyone who witnessed it was the sheer guts that carried the Leafs into the conference final against the unlikely Carolina Hurricanes. In the end, the Gary Roberts-led Leafs couldn't get it done.

"That was one of the years I thought we had a real good chance to end up against Detroit," Quinn said. "We had so many injuries, but yet such courageous performances that maybe you just dream you can do it all."

Eric Lindros has been a part of the Leafs organization for about four months but the essence of that ethic is not lost on him.

"There's a great deal of pride here," Lindros said. "In Pittsburgh the other night, I just knew walking to the rink from the hotel that we were going to win. The Leaf fans were there in strong numbers. This team rolls with emotion.

"Strong-willed is a good way to describe it."

The famous blue and white maple leaf and its proud history may have something to do with that, but that winning heritage took a powder nearly 40 years ago.

"I believe that it comes from who you are and what you learn when you're younger, not necessarily just when you look down at what's on your chest," Quinn said.


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