Tough road for Leafs

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

Jason Allison peeled the last piece of tape off his hockey sock Saturday night and without looking up, gave a terse assessment of his first two-goal game as a Maple Leaf.

"It's about time," Allison said.

"That's nice for me in a personal sense in that it has been a long time. This is the time of year we have to have our best from everyone on every night."

That couldn't be closer to the truth.

The odds remain out of the Leafs' favour with 19 games left in the regular season. They are six points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, which has fallen to eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The New York Islanders also have 64 points, and there's the Atlanta Thrashers, who hold down the ninth spot.

The Leafs were given yesterday off by coach Pat Quinn not so much as a reward for picking up five of a possible six points to stay in the playoff hunt, but because they're about to embark on an extremely difficult portion of the schedule.

After a home game tomorrow night against the Boston Bruins, they will play seven of eight on the road, with only one of those matches against a club (the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday) that would not make the playoffs today. And the lone game at the Air Canada Centre in that span is against the Carolina Hurricanes, a Stanley Cup contender.

"I didn't even realize that," Allison said of the road stretch. "But even if we have that many on the road, it's not an excuse to be average, you know? We have to win a large amount of those games."

Even though the Leafs could not beat the depleted Islanders on Friday night, there have been some encouraging, though modest, signs of improvement recently. The Leafs have scored five goals in each of their past two games, something they had not done since New Year's Eve, when they had six against the New Jersey Devils.

"I like the way we played," captain Mats Sundin said after the 5-1 win against Tampa on Saturday. "We were patient even though there was no score for awhile. We did not give up a lot of turnovers. We had a few, but not as many as have had in the last couple of months. We'll take the points any way we can. I don't really care what it looks like."

And if more wins come with the inclusion of bruising more veteran egos, so be it. Quinn has sat Tie Domi and Jeff O'Neill in the past two games respectively, and it would not be a surprise if O'Neill did not dress versus the Bruins.

Another question mark is defenceman Alexander Khavanov, who suffered an upper-body injury in the Lightning tilt. Khavanov will have the injury, believed to involve a shoulder, examined today.

"We're still trying to get a game where we have 20 guys playing hard all night long and we always haven't had that," Quinn said. "Someone is going to have to sit and maybe it is a veteran guy."


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