Key rematch looms amidst chaos for Leafs

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

MONTREAL -- As media members gathered in the bowels of the Bell Centre to chat with the Maple Leafs yesterday, they were informed that coach Pat Quinn would not be available because of a previous engagement.

"Does John Ferguson know?" one ink-stained wretch wisecracked later, referring to the rumours of miscommunication between general manager and coach.

While Ferguson and Quinn deny those allegations, there is no denying the Leafs have transformed into Club Chaos as they prepare to meet the Montreal Canadiens in the finale of their two-game set here tonight.

To illustrate:

- They have become the objects of ridicule of fans and media alike.

- They are the whipping boys of teams such as the Habs, who embarrassed them 5-1 here on Thursday night.

- Their frustration is boiling over, whether it be Mats Sundin slamming the bench door closed in disgust during practice yesterday or Tie Domi and Clarke Wilm speaking out against their recent benchings.

- They have not scored an even-strength goal in five games, yet spent much of the workout practising the power play, the one part of their game that has actually been clicking.

- Their top line at practice was the unlikely trio of Sundin centring Jason Allison and Darcy Tucker.

- Their one-time franchise goalie, Ed Belfour, is done for the season -- and maybe his career -- because of a brittle back.

- Winger Jeff O'Neill will ponder his hockey future in the off-season. Defenceman Aki Berg may retire from the NHL in the summer in order to allow his kids to grow up in his native Finland.

All this, and the Leafs still are expected to rebound tonight against the ninth-place Habs, who lead them by five points in the Eastern Conference standings.

Funny thing is, as much as a long shot as it is, the Leafs still have a chance at the post-season if they win and move to within three of Montreal.

Do you believe in miracles?

"I think for us to realistically have a chance, we have to reel off four or five (wins) in a row," O'Neill said. "If we lose (tonight), it is devastating.

"If you don't know the importance of the games now, you are not that smart of an individual."

Allison told reporters not to make too much of his shift from centre to the wing alongside Sundin and Tucker.

"I think we lined up that way because we were working on the power play," he said. "But if that's the way Pat decides to go in the game, I'm fine with that."

Perhaps no one is searching for more answers than Sundin. While the captain has been playing relatively well since the Olympics, the same can't be said for many of his teammates.

"We try to find reasons and excuses. I wish I knew (what's wrong)," Sundin said.

"We have the talent to be a playoff team, so that makes it even more frustrating. We're not where we think we should be."

Too bad he didn't have wingers such Peter Forsberg, who played alongside Sundin for the gold-medal Swedes at the recent Olympics.

"Don't even go there," he said before breaking into laughter.

The captain and his teammates haven't had a lot of reason to chuckle like that of late.


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