Things seem to be looking up

Carlo Coloaiacovo stretches before practice. (SUN/Michael Peake)

Carlo Coloaiacovo stretches before practice. (SUN/Michael Peake)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:57 AM ET

A shootout. A shutout. A blowout.

How many ways -- and how badly -- can the Maple Leafs lose to the Ottawa Senators? Toronto, outscored 23-9 halfway through the Battle of Ontario series, could be in for more of the same when a unique two-game tour of Ottawa begins tonight.

The Leafs never have lost more than four games in a row under Pat Quinn and it easily could be six by Monday night.

But it seemed yesterday's spring-like temperatures triggered some pleasant playoff memories in Bytown for the depleted Leafs, most of whom showed an air of optimism about their chances tonight and Monday.

Even Quinn, whose mood had gone from anger to near depression during the four losses, retained hope that the worst could be over.

"To have a game in hand and give it away as bad," said Quinn, summing up all three losses the past seven days. "We have to fight that emotion of fear. We can't let it control us as it has. Even the experienced guys on our team need to go through that again now and then.

"Still, I can look them all in the eye and say that we did a lot of good things. A week and half ago, we wouldn't have been having this discussion. Now, let's go out there and rid ourselves of the ugly stuff."

But it's an ugly world outside the dressing room, where the second-guessing about trades, medical treatments and just about everything else pertaining to the team has gone into overdrive. Falling to eighth place in the conference will do that in this town.

"You're not going to see us press the panic button in here," defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "A lot of guys in this room have been through this kind of thing before. They've been telling the younger guys (such as himself) not to get too carried away with everything that's going on around us."

Colaiacovo and rookie defenceman Staffan Kronwall have been getting the worst of the abuse in recent days, seemingly always in the frame when something goes awry for the Leafs. No. 1 defenceman Bryan McCabe won't be back for the Ottawa series and possibly longer, though Alex Khavanov's rib injury from Wednesday night in Minnesota has healed sufficiently for him to play this evening.

Toronto has not yet announced any callups from the Marlies, who are spending much of this month on the road. As for the inevitable start of trade rumours, general manager John Ferguson has too little wiggle room. He's constrained at one end by the NHL's $39-million US salary cap and at the other by other GMs who sense he's dealing from an increasing position of desperation in the standings.

A possible way out, if the team reserves some patience, is to wait for other clubs further down to the playoff ladder to begin their housecleaning, perhaps via waivers. Quinn made it clear yesterday that he is not in favour of a major shakeup.

"We've had our shakeup through injuries," he said. "It's true that this is a different group we're working with this year. But I've had young teams in the past and I've had teams in transition. The one we had in Philadelphia that had lots of American Hockey Leaguers on it was undefeated for 35 games (an NHL record)."

Tonight, the Leafs would settle for just one win.


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