Something to build on

With the Maple Leafs desperately in need of a victory, Chad Kilger gets pushy with the Canadiens'...

With the Maple Leafs desperately in need of a victory, Chad Kilger gets pushy with the Canadiens' Michael Ryder during an often-spirited tilt last night. (Toronto Sun/Greg Henkenhaf)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

The Maple Leafs have a pulse.

Staring at a must-win situation against the Montreal Canadiens last night, the Leafs managed to cling to their slim playoff dreams and avoid a possible fire sale with a 5-3 win against their most-storied rival.

"It's something we can build on," said captain Mats Sundin, who paced the offence with his first two-goal game of the season. "I like our feeling in the dressing room. Even though we are going through a really tough time right now, it's the trading deadline and who knows what is going to happen? Still, I think we have a good atmosphere. We were able to focus. This is a start."

With 21 games remaining in the regular season, the Leafs are six points behind the Canadiens, who hold the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Leafs, with 61 points, moved into 10th place in the conference, one ahead of both the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders. The Atlanta Thrashers are ninth with 64 points.

The Leafs were given today off by coach Pat Quinn and don't play until Friday on Long Island, a day after the trade deadline passes.

Desperate for anything approaching a positive result, the Leafs, sparked by Marlies callup Ben Ondrus, performed with a physical zeal that has been missing. And they were opportunistic, scoring the most goals in a game since Dec. 31 and recording four power-play goals, their second-best output in 2005-06. There was a noticeable decrease in defensive miscues as well.

Tomas Kaberle had a goal and three assists for his first four-point game in the NHL, and Darcy Tucker had three assists. Kyle Wellwood and Jason Allison also scored for Toronto, which placed Mariusz Czerkawski on waivers.

Integral was the play of Ed Belfour. The 40-year-old made 30 saves, including many that were top notch. It's the kind of netminding the Leafs will require down the stretch if they are going to be post-season participants.

Richard Zednik, Andrei Markov and Chris Higgins scored for the Canadiens, who lost the night before in Philadelphia and were playing their fifth match of a six-game trip.

The Leafs, who had the luxury of seven consecutive power plays in one stretch, were not in the clear until Montreal defenceman Mike Komisarek was assessed a double minor for high-sticking Tie Domi at 5:57 of the third. Up 3-2, goals by Allison and Sundin put the game out of reach as Komisarek watched from the box.

Domi, who left the game briefly, was lucky. He had a cut on his left eyelid, mere centimetres from a serious injury.

"I know it was close," Domi said. "It was just nice to see some smiling faces after a win. Our leaders, Eddie and Mats, led us and everybody else rallied around them."

The Leafs had lost five in a row and had not won in a month.

"They were ready to play," Quinn said. "Eddie was the difference. We won one in a row, and can only build off that by concentrating in our next game. Maybe getting by the deadline will take that pressure off so we can focus."

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REPORT CARD

B Forwards: Getting back to help the defencemen was big, and burying chances at the other end proved a better outing.

B Defence: There was more cohesion with the forwards. Life becomes much easier when that happens.

B Goaltending: Ed Belfour, for one game at least, showed he still can bring it. A toe save on Saku Koivu was a highlight.


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