Isles, Leafs have Cinderella hopes

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Four years after their titanic seven-game playoff series, either the Maple Leafs, New York Islanders or both will see their post-season hopes sunk.

Despite the result last night, a 2-1 win for the Islanders in a shootout which left both teams seven points behind eighth-place Montreal, the logjam in the Eastern Conference can't support two Cinderella teams.

The Isles are clinging to hope that their gutted roster still can make it to eighth place. The Leafs opted to keep 99% of their team intact at the trade deadline, but now the players owe general manager John Ferguson and coach Pat Quinn a huge reward for their faith that might go unpaid.

Both teams snuck peeks at ninth-place Atlanta and 13th-place Florida on the National Hockey League out-of-town board last night.

"I don't think we can control those situations," Quinn said in the morning about getting a hand from other teams. "We just try and win as many as we can. We dug the hole here, so we'll have to (dig out).

"Who knows what'll happen? We all remember teams that have both fallen out of solid playoff spots and ones that have risen from the ashes."

So, despite Montreal and Atlanta pulling away since the Olympic break, the Leafs have scoured the standings for help as high as the seventh-place Tampa Bay Lightning, whose goaltending woes make them vulnerable tonight at the Air Canada Centre.

The Isles shed Mark Parrish, Oleg Kvasha, Brent Sopel and Brad Lukowich this week, but insist they will be a pain in the butt of any playoff aspirant.

"It doesn't look like we'll make it, but we'll definitely give it a good push," forward Jason Blake said. "The guys in this room still believe and until April 18, we'll play hard."

Last night marked Toronto's first visit to the Nassau Coliseum since Christmas of 2003. Including the playoff series between the teams in 2002, the Leafs have lost seven of their past eight games in Uniondale.

Guaranteed gate attraction Darcy Tucker was well enough to suit up for the Leafs last night, thanks to a knee brace. He was Public Enemy No. 1 on the Island for his controversial hit on Isles' Mike Peca in that series.

"I don't know if that's the case anymore," Tucker said with a laugh. "I've talked to a few people outside today. I think they forgive me. Peca is gone now. It's all good.

"Those are the kind of moments you live for, to play in those kind of series."

Quinn is not so sure Tucker ever will be off the hook, even though he has channeled his aggression into offence this year, and sits one goal shy of a career-best 25.

"Tucks is one of those guys that is probably hated by 29 other teams and their fans, and that's why he's loved by us," Quinn said. "I don't think there is anyone who doesn't like his never-give-up attitude. He's done a lot with the skill level he has."


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