Leafs treading water

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Now this is strange: The Maple Leafs just won't go away.

As various media outlets try to explain what went wrong this season for a club that few expected to make the playoffs anyway, the Leafs have suddenly won a couple of road games.

The Leafs played a smart match against a superior club and again got solid goaltending from Jean-Sebastien Aubin to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 before a surprised sold-out crowd at the Wachovia Center.

Still, the Leafs' playoff picture is not brighter. Because the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils won last night, the Leafs, with 74 points, remain seven points out. The Canadiens, Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning all have 81 points. Toronto, with 10 games remaining, did move into 10th place, one point past idle Florida.

"I know this -- these kids have not given up and they are not going to," coach Pat Quinn said.

MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB

"We have a mountain in front of us but we got ourselves there and we will try our best to get out of it."

In games in Montreal Thursday and Saturday, had the Leafs put in the kind of effort they've had in victories against the Flyers and Devils, they might be on to something. But in the end, the past two wins likely won't mean much.

The Leafs and Flyers were tied 1-1 entering third period when Alexei Ponikarovsky and Alex Steen struck less than two minutes apart. Steen's goal, at 2:02, came when he buried a juicy Matt Stajan rebound past Antero Niittymaki and it was the winner. R.J. Umberger brought the Flyers one goal closer with less than five minutes to go but the home side could not get the tying goal.

Mats Sundin, who was a horse for Toronto, also scored. Joni Pitkanen also scored for the Flyers.

Aubin, who had not played in the NHL in almost two years before beating the Devils on Sunday, was exceptional. He made two huge saves on Peter Forsberg in the third and earlier denied Michal Handzus on a breakaway. The Leafs don't play again until the Buffalo Sabres visit on Saturday and Aubin likely will get another start in place of Mikael Tellqvist. Aubin is providing the kind of goaltending Ed Belfour could not before his back problems flared up.

Aubin, who made 28 saves, had a lot of help. Clueless against the Canadiens, the Leafs have played like a band of brothers the past two games, supporting each other at every turn.

All of the Leafs goals' were at even-strength, giving them seven in two games after going nearly six games without one.

"Often this year we got so stretched out we became a standstill team," Quinn said. "Our guys have been so much more attentive in the past couple of games in getting into position to move the puck from our zone. We're coming together as a group."

Steen, who has formed a good line with Jeff O'Neill and Stajan, knows desperation is what will have to drive the Leafs until they are done.

"It's tough," Steen said. "We came into Montreal and we wanted to so well and we got off to the worst possible start in the first game there. We could not bounce back. Now we're at the point where if we don't get two points, we are going to slip out of the playoff race. We can't allow that to happen."


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