Leafs offer up hope

The Maple Leafs' Darcy Tucker (right) celebrates the game-winning goal scored by Jason Allison...

The Maple Leafs' Darcy Tucker (right) celebrates the game-winning goal scored by Jason Allison against the Hurricanes last night. (Toronto Sun/Fred Thornhill)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

The Maple Leafs may not have required a confidence boost to get geared up for a crucial two-game set against their oldest rivals, but they will have their chests puffed out in Montreal beginning tomorrow night.

In an upset, the Leafs last night used a late power-play goal by Jason Allison to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre.

The triumph, well-earned by the home side, kept the Leafs in the playoff picture, though there was some jockeying of position. The Leafs remain in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 70 points, but it's not the Canadiens who have the last post-season spot.

A Habs loss to the New York Islanders, hand-in-hand with an Atlanta Thrashers win against the Boston Bruins, put the Thrashers in eighth with 74 points.

The Canadiens have 73 points. The Leafs and Canadiens have 14 games remaining, the Thrashers 13.

"It may well have been one of our better outings (of the season)," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said.

"Our position was good and we moved the puck well against a really good checking team.

"The past four or five games, I have liked our team."

Alex Steen and Alexander Khavanov also scored power-play goals for the Leafs, and Mikael Tellqvist made 33 saves. One of the best Leafs was ex-Hurricane Jeff O'Neill, who had two assists for only the second time this season. O'Neill hustled all night, something he has not done with regularity.

Tie Domi and Clarke Wilm were healthy scratches. Quinn kept Ben Ondrus in and Russian rookie Aleksander Suglobov, acquired from New Jersey for Ken Klee, made his debut. Quinn acknowledged the changes were made to inject more speed into the Leafs' attack, and they worked.

Defenceman Brendan Bell, after several false starts, skated in his first NHL game and had a solid first showing.

Mike Commodore and Eric Staal scored for the Hurricanes.

The Leafs were not letter-perfect against Carolina, which has 26 more points. Toronto had a 2-0 lead early in the third period and Tellqvist was riding a shutout string of 106 minutes, 29 seconds when the club ran into a few hiccups.

Just over a minute after Khavanov ripped a slapshot over the left shoulder of 'Canes goalie Martin Gerber, Tellqvist inadvertently kicked the puck into his net after a shot by Commodore. Three minutes later, Staal poked a loose puck into the empty net after a point shot bounced off Tomas Kaberle and Tellqvist.

But with two points hanging by a thread, the Leafs did not cave. As Bret Hedican watched from the penalty box, Allison popped a Bryan McCabe rebound behind Gerber with less than five minutes remaining.

"I think we can play with anybody when we are playing well," Allison said. "It's the time of year you have to go into every game expecting to win, and we are a confident group right now."

So with two wins in a row, it's on to Montreal, where the Leafs will play two of a four-game trip.

One can hear the intensity cranking up already.

"The most fun games to play in the whole season are the Montreal games, and it won't change now when we are right beside each other in the standings and both teams are fighting for a spot," Mats Sundin said.

"It's going to be huge. We all realize we are going to be in a race right until the last week of the season."


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