West tough test for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

With an old-time spirit of adventure, the Pat Quinn-era Maple Leafs have sought fortune in Western Canada each year and returned loaded with points.

Since Quinn arrived here in 1998, Toronto's record in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver is a profitable 16-7-1, plus points from three overtime losses. In the 27 games previous to that, when the Oilers and Flames still had some of their Stanley Cup rosters and Quinn's own Canucks were tough to budge at the Pacific Coliseum, the Leafs were a weak 7-15-5.

There is ample evidence that the coming road trip could see the pendulum swing against Toronto again. For the first time since 1990-91, all three Western-Canadian teams are heading for the playoffs.

Calgary, where the Leafs will open their trip on Friday, ended a seven-year playoff drought in 2004 by getting to the Stanley Cup final. Now, the Flames lead the Northwest Division.

Edmonton, where the Leafs will check in on Saturday as part of Hockey Day In Canada festivities, is in second place in the division with the fourth-best offence in the Western Conference. Vancouver, despite a Christmas slump, is 14-3-1-2 at home this season, with a chance to make it 15 wins before the Leafs arrive on Tuesday.

"All three have become really solid teams," Quinn said. "But they are always competitive games there anyway. Obviously, the home crowd and the home teams have an effect. It's like when Toronto wasn't a good team. The games always still seemed to turn out well for them. So we expect it will be the same sort of challenge and we hope we can meet it."

Quinn has no reason to fear being swept, as his team is on a season-high six-game winning streak. Players can expect the usual fanatical crowd support from Leafs fans who have chosen to ignore all the Cups and conference championships rung up by the Flames, Oilers and Canucks.

Not even injuries to two centres and a front-line winger have slowed the Leafs since Dec. 23. In an effort to keep the momentum going, the Leafs are travelling to Calgary today to get in two practices while adjusting to the two-hour time change.

"Six wins in a row will take us out on a high note, but it will be tough," said Toronto's top scorer, Alberta-raised Bryan McCabe. "Not many teams go out there and win too many games. Obviously, we'd like to keep this thing rolling, but it won't be easy."

McCabe will be going against Calgary rookie Dion Phaneuf, the hard-shooting defenceman who is third in Flames scoring.

Castor, Alta., native Darcy Tucker will have three days to rest the rib strain he aggravated during a 3-2 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.

There is a good chance Mikael Tellqvist will start in goal for the Calgary game, given Ed Belfour's outstanding record of 30-8-7 against the Oilers and his fondness for playing in nationally televised matches.

"I've been feeling stronger in the net," Belfour said. "Conditioning has been the key. Guys are playing better defensively in front of me, clearing the rebounds and letting me see the puck."


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