Nieuwendyk feels for suffering Leafs fans

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- For the final 15 minutes of practice yesterday, coach Jacques Martin and centre Joe Nieuwendyk held a serious gab session at centre ice.

Don't be surprised if Martin was picking Nieuwendyk's brain on any deep dark secrets on beating the Maple Leafs, Nieuwendyk's former team.

Just stepping onto the ice against the Leafs these days seems to be enough to defeat Pat Quinn's wobbling team, which has dropped eight consecutive games entering their matchup tonight against Nieuwendyk's Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center.

Even down here in south Florida, Nieuwendyk understands the panic that is setting in for Leafs fans.

"Sure I've noticed what's been going on in Toronto," Nieuwendyk said. "Anything that comes out of Toronto is magnified.

"Any time you lose that many games, it's going to be a big deal no matter if you are in Toronto or wherever. I just don't think people in Toronto expected anything like this.

"Their biggest problem seems to be too many goals against."

Nieuwendyk has chatted with Leafs captain Mats Sundin a number of times this season.

"There are enough character guys in their room to get them out of this," Nieuwendyk said. "But right now I'm more concerned about our fortunes."

A victory would pull the Panthers to within two points of the Leafs, Atlanta Thrashers and Montreal Canadiens, who are all tied for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Florida has not been within two points of eighth place in the second half of the season in five years.

Former Leaf Gary Roberts, who is out with a MCL strain in his knee, is scheduled to be in the broadcast booth as part of the Panthers telecast.


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