Time to walk the walk

Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn takes his players through a drill during yesterday's practice at...

Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn takes his players through a drill during yesterday's practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena. The Leafs head down the QEW tonight to play the Buffalo Sabres. (Toronto Sun/Stan Behal)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

They are clinging to playoff hopes but not playing with anything approaching desperation, yet the Maple Leafs say they have not given up on their coach.

Starting tonight in Buffalo against the Sabres, the Leafs have no choice but to back up their talk a large dose of hustle in their walk.

Doing so not only would improve their chances of grasping a playoff berth but also would indicate to Pat Quinn he has not lost them. The coach has been under the gun because it has appeared at times the players have tuned him out.

"Our guys have a lot of respect for Pat," Darcy Tucker said after practice yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "He has done a lot for our organization and he continues to work hard into getting us into a playoff position."

The Leafs, who tomorrow night play host to their nemesis the Ottawa Senators, were in 10th place in the Eastern Conference before last night with 59 points and had done little recently to suggest they were serious about participating in the post-season for the seventh spring in a row.

Tucker, one of the few Leafs interested in being a physical presence, agreed with Quinn's assertion of a day earlier that the players have to re-discover a swagger.

"We had the reputation before as a very confident group that won't back down from anything and would like to get into a dogfight with anybody," Tucker said. "Let's hope we can find that mentality here sooner than later.

"We have been known in the past to be a team that would be very gritty and determined and wouldn't let anything pass us by. We are a team that is desperate and has to play as such."

ALLISON IFFY

In order to give his team some sort of physical spark, Quinn said he is toying with the notion of dressing Wade Belak, who practised yesterday on a line with Alex Steen and Tucker, at forward tonight.

Centre Jason Allison missed his second consecutive day of practice yesterday with a stiff neck but said he would be okay for tonight.

The Leafs, who were to leave for Buffalo this morning by bus, won't know until today whether Allison can play.

Quinn is managing to keep his chin up despite the negative publicity his team has been generating.

Taking criticism personally is not something he does, Quinn said.

"I try not to dwell on that," Quinn said. "Criticism goes with all sorts of things in life. I don't think about (being on the hot seat) at all. My focus is on trying to help these young men being as good as they can be.

"By feeling bad or being distracted by what is being said, all you are doing is not answering adversity the best way you can. I try to put it where it belongs.

"I'm not beating myself up."


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