Pain is gain for Leafs

Maple Leafs goalie Ed Belfour nails Atlanta forward Scott Mellanby into the boards during last...

Maple Leafs goalie Ed Belfour nails Atlanta forward Scott Mellanby into the boards during last night's game at the Air Canada Centre. Belfour was sharp in a 4-1 victory. (Toronto Sun/Craig Robertson)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

Bob Hartley could not help himself.

As he emerged from the Atlanta Thrashers dressing room to address the media following last night's 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs, the embattled coach peered over at the two P.R. types who had accompanied the team to Toronto.

"Try to find out how (Bryan) McCabe is," Hartley said sarcastically. "See if he's going to the hospital or not."

Obviously, Hartley felt McCabe had engaged in some Oscar-winning theatrics in the first period when a check-from-behind by the Thrashers' Serge Aubin left McCabe in a heap behind the Toronto net.

But the sentiment was not shared by the capacity crowd of 19,427, who fell into a hush at the sight of McCabe being helped off the ice by Mats Sundin and Matt Stajan.

Another Olympic defenceman down.

Another Maple Leafs defenceman down.

Potential disaster.

McCabe admitted being scared because his right leg had gone numb after being rammed knee-first into the boards.

Fortunately, the veteran defenceman was able to return to the ice one shift later on the ensuing power play, much to the chagrin of Hartley.

The diagnosis -- a bruised knee cap.

But it could have been worse.

Much worse.

"Thank God I got the feeling back and it was fine," McCabe said. "I was pissed off with the hit and thought I was hurt a lot worse than I was. When you can't feel your leg and it has its own heartbeat, that's not a good thing."

Aubin received a five-minute major and game misconduct.

With Ed Jovanovski already out of the Olympics because of abdominal surgery and Scott Niedermayer set to decide in the next couple of days if he'll follow suit because of a wonky knee, the last thing Maple Leafs/Team Canada coach Pat Quinn needed to see was McCabe in pain on the ice.

"I was not too concerned about (the Olympics) at the time," McCabe said. "I was just worried about playing, period.

"It was flush on the knee cap at full speed. The knee area is a touchy issue. I've had some problems before and I was worried this was one of the bad ones."

Not only did McCabe return, he would get the last laugh by scoring Toronto's final goal, joining Alexei Ponikarovsky, Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood in the Leafs' scoring parade.

But the first star on this night was goalie Ed Belfour, who allowed just a Marian Hossa goal while making 33 saves.

"I'm seeing the puck well," Belfour said.

"The guys were great clearing out the front of the net and clearing rebounds."

It was the first time the Leafs had posted back-to-back victories in more than a month.

They had not accomplished the feat since defeating the New Jersey Devils 6-3 on Dec. 31 and the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Jan. 2.

During a break in the second period, fans gave former Maple Leafs great Darryl Sittler a two-minute standing ovation to mark the 30th anniversary of the greatest individual single-game performance in NHL history.

On Feb. 7, 1976, Sittler racked up a league-record 10 points against the Don Cherry-coached Boston Bruins.

Sittler scored six times against Bruins goalie Dave Reece and added four assists for good measure.

Sittler didn't see anywhere near such an offensive performance last night, but at least he watched the Leafs sweep the season series from Atlanta 4-0.

Toronto outscored the Thrashers 22-3 in those four games.


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