Despite loss, positive signs for Leafs

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

OTTAWA -- Sometimes, you win when you lose.

The Maple Leafs couldn't quite hold off the Ottawa Senators last night and lost 4-3, but in the process, they won a number of victories over their own demons.

They proved that they are not a team playing to get its coach fired and they proved that they have some pride -- neither of which seemed to be the case during their 7-0 loss to these same Senators on Saturday.

It would have been easy to roll over again. The Senators delivered enough adversity to give them every opportunity. They scored early once again -- at the 4:50 mark this time -- and pushed their lead to 2-0 before the first period ended.

But this was a different Toronto team than the one that fell behind 3-0 in the first period on Saturday. This one showed some effort. This one played as if it cared about making the playoffs.

Despite digging themselves a hole, they created more scoring chances in that opening period than they had in the entire game on Saturday.

Their captain, Mats Sundin, led by example and the line of Sundin, Alex Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov exerted pressure all night long. Granted, they also took some stupid penalties, but they seemed to be errors of commission rather than omission.

And this time, the Leafs didn't let themselves get pushed around. Tie Domi fought Chris Neil, a match that ended with a slight decision to Neil, but it seemed to give the Leafs a bit more life. Then Wade Belak took on Brian McGrattan.

But the inescapable fact is that the Senators are the better team, and when they play with some determination of their own, it's always going to be difficult for the Leafs to come away with a victory.

"They played hard," conceded Senators coach Bryan Murray when asked about the Leafs. "They rebounded. We got ahead 4-1 and they came right back at the end and made it very competitive, so it was a big effort on their part.

"They played real hard. They competed. They took the body more and maybe that was a big part of why we didn't have the puck the way we would like to have had the puck."

Senators forward Jason Spezza also expressed his respect for the Leafs, but felt that his own team's effort should not be overlooked.

"They're a proud bunch of guys over there," he said, "and we knew they were going to come out hard. But our team showed a lot of character too. We earned our 4-1 lead and we held onto it.

"It may have got interesting at the end, but we played hard. They had their backs against the wall (this time) and we answered. They gave it their best and we matched their intensity.

BENCHMARK GAMES

"These are benchmark games for us.

"In the past, we had problems against the Leafs. We want to erase that and we want to erase that we're a team that can't win close games and a team that can't win games against physical teams.

"I think we're doing a good job of that. We're getting primed for the playoffs."

But it wasn't all sweetness and light in the Ottawa room. Vaclav Varada, sporting a nasty cut that ran across his eyebrow and down the side of his eye, felt that Carlo Colaiacovo had tried to injure him on a play in which Colaiacovo suffered a concussion. The cut came from Colaiacovo's helmet.

"I was really upset that he came after me and I had no puck," he said. "He has a concussion. It could have been me laying down there.

"I kind of saw him at the last second and tried to pull myself off. That may have saved me. If I had been facing down, leaning forward he may have hurt me. I didn't see him at all. I think he intentionally went after me even if I had no puck."

So the Battle of Ontario continues. And and least, after last night, the Leafs look like willing combatants.


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