EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Though it's almost too late to salvage anything this season, the Maple Leafs showed last night they're quite capable of playing with heart and determination.
Backed by the goaltending of Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who made his debut in a Toronto uniform, the Leafs completed a regular-season sweep of the New Jersey Devils with a 4-3 victory at a half-empty Continental Airlines Arena. The triumph came on the heels of a pair of putrid efforts in Montreal that probably killed the Leafs' playoff aspirations.
With 72 points and 11 games left, the Leafs remain seven points in arrears of the eighth-place Montreal Canadiens, who beat the Pittsburgh Penguins last night. But Toronto, in Philadelphia tomorrow night to end a four-game trip, moved past the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders and is in 10th place, a point ahead of each of those clubs.
'IT IS NOT OVER'
"We can't afford to not win anymore," coach Pat Quinn said. "It was really significant, those back-to-back losses (in Montreal). That's an understatement. But as far as we are concerned, it is not over and we are going to do our best to make sure we are going to play well in each game, and you never know what happens."
Quinn revealed after the game that centre Jason Allison, who did not play last night, will return to Toronto this morning to have his hand X-rayed. Allison was hurt in a scrap during the Leafs' 6-2 loss to the Canadiens on Saturday. Nik Antropov, who left the game late last night after colliding with Grant Marshall, should be okay, Quinn said.
As for the match itself, the Leafs bounded out with a surprisingly high level of enthusiasm. They peppered Martin Brodeur, who had an off-night, with 17 shots, the most they have registered in any first period this season
Aubin made some nice stops on Zach Parise and Patrik Elias in the early going, showing the decision of Quinn to put him in ahead of Mikael Tellqvist was a smart one.
What's more, the Leafs scored all four of their goals at even-strength, a truly amazing stat for this club. Of course, it's hard to score on the power play when you don't have any.
Aubin was outstanding in the final five minutes as the Leafs managed to win despite taking three minors in that span.
"We have a lot of character, it's not as though we don't," Tucker said. "We started out really good and we forechecked well and sustained it for 55 minutes. It was tough sledding at the end there. I don't think I have ever played in a game with no power plays."
The line of Kyle Wellwood between Tucker and Chad Kilger was an effective one. Kilger, Wellwood, Mats Sundin and Matt Stajan, who played with guts after being benched on Saturday, scored for the Leafs, who swept the four-game season series from New Jersey. Erik Rasmussen, Scott Gomez and Elias scored for the Devils.
Ian White, in place of the injured Alexander Khavanov, made his NHL debut on the blue line and assisted on Sundin's goal. He was lauded by Quinn for performing well. White became the fifth rookie defenceman to make his NHL debut for the Leafs this season, joining Andy Wozniewski, Staffan Kronwall, Jay Harrison and Brendan Bell.
"Until that first shift, there were a lot of jitters," said White, who was paired with Luke Richardson and played exactly 19 minutes. "Once things got going, I was pretty comfortable."