O'Neill finding his stride

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Jeff O'Neill was on a mission last night, for himself, his playoff-challenged team and a newborn in Newmarket.

After sleepwalking through most of this season with the Maple Leafs, to the stage last week where he pondered leaving the National Hockey League next season, O'Neill was a driving force in last night's 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

He assisted on two power-play goals and looked the part of a first-line winger with Mats Sundin and Alex Steen.

"In this business you go through adversity and you try to overcome it," O'Neill said of his sudden change of fortune in Toronto's renewed playoff hopes.

O'Neill dedicated the game to Donny Flanigan, born to his cousin Chris last week and named in honour of Jeff's role-model brother, who died in a traffic accident in July.

The tragedy contributed to O'Neill's problems when his offensive impact on the Leafs was significantly less-than-advertised when he arrived in a trade with Carolina.

"It was nice to get a little tribute win for Chris and Donny," O'Neill said.

"We wanted to get a win tonight to make the next couple of games in Montreal worth a lot. That (Hurricanes) team played a helluva game tonight and threw a lot at us.

"They got a couple of weird goals with the puck squirting around, but we showed resilience."

O'Neill, who led Toronto forwards in shots on goal last night with four, had not had a multi-assist game since Nov. 8 against the Washington Capitals, and he remains a team-worst minus-20.

But if keeps hitting and hustling like last night and gets some even-strength points, he could yet have a big say in the playoff race.

It will be difficult for Leafs coach Pat Quinn to make him a healthy scratch, as he has done in the schedule's second half.

"He played well and it looks like he had some confidence," teammate Jason Allison said.

"We are going to need him if we are going to make a run here."


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