Habs make it tougher

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Pat Quinn and his Maple Leafs know the road to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference became a lot tougher in the past 48 hours.

While his club stood pat after two minor deals on Wednesday, most others either fine-tuned their chances of making the post-season tournament or got a head start on house-cleaning.

"I don't know of many managers who do deals just because it's (deadline day) and there is pressure in their minds to do something," Quinn said last night, assessing the new conference landscape. "They do deals they think can (impact) their team."

The Leafs were most interested in the dealings of the Montreal Canadiens and Atlanta Thrashers, who continued solidifying for the stretch and hold eight and five-point leads respectively on them. Montreal now has a one-two punch in goal in Cristobal Huet and David Aebischer, and added defenceman Todd Simpson for toughness.

For Atlanta general manager Don Waddell, the key is not tampering with the chemistry his club has found in the second half, and made only a minor deal, adding defenceman Steve McCarthy.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay decided to stay with its incumbent goaltending and bank on its defence staying healthy to defend its Cup.

Up the road, the Panthers looked to the future, re-signing captain Olli Jokinen for four years at $21 million US, a move designed in part to placate potential free agent goalie Roberto Luongo.

At the top of the heap, Ottawa and Carolina did some last-minute jockeying. The Sens landed Tyler Arnason from Chicago to centre their second line with Martin Havlat, while the Hurricanes filled the huge hole caused by Erik Cole's injury by landing Mark Recchi from Pittsburgh.

The Sens, believing Dominik Hasek will be ready for the playoffs, also added goalie Mike Morrison off waivers.

The Rangers and the Flyers, traditionally big deadline dealers, each made a one last move on defence, New York adding Sandis Ozolinsh and Philly scooping Denis Gauthier. New Jersey tried to shore up its blueline depth the past two days with Ken Klee and Brad Lukowich.

Boston, which is still in playoff limbo despite the Joe Thornton trade, maximized its last asset by sending Sergei Samsonov to the Oilers for forwards Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny and a second-round pick. Their wild-card pickup is ex-Leaf Mariusz Czerkawski.

The Isles shed four players and their big salaries to get ready for a new GM next year.

As expected, Mika Noronen and Brendan Witt were finally dealt, but both went west, Noronen leaving Buffalo to give the Canucks more help in net; Witt from Washington to the Nashville Predators, finally ending all the Leafs rumours.

"We said at the start that we'd be battling all year long and that's exactly what has happened," Quinn said of all the moves. "We're not quite the battlers I thought as far as position goes, but we won't take a back seat now. We'll earn our playoff spot."


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