Leafs have come from behind before

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

The Maple Leafs are hanging in the playoff race by a thread, but stranger things have happened.

Here are some of their most memorable late-season exploits:

1959: A PINCH OF PUNCH

The Leafs were seven points out with only five games remaining in the old six-team National Hockey League.

New coach Punch Imlach showed his worth, coming from last place at Christmas for a make-or-break home-and-home with the fourth-place New York Rangers. Johnny Bower blanked New York 5-0 at the Gardens and the Leafs won 6-5 at MSG.

Entering the final night of play, the Leafs trailed the Rangers by a point, needing a win in Detroit. News of Montreal's victory in New York reached the Leafs before the third period at the Olympia. Having fought back from a 2-0 deficit, they broke open a 4-4 tie on goals by Dick Duff and Billy Harris.

The Leafs went on to upset second-place Boston in the first round before losing to the Habs.

"I've always maintained the baby was born that night (in Detroit) that would lead to (three straight Stanley Cups in 1962-64)," Duff once said. "All young teams have to go through something like that before they become great."

1987: BAD CHUCK NORRIS FILM

Despite losing six of seven to the Minnesota North Stars in the regular season, the last one with six games to play, Toronto would prove a hard meal for the Gopher State team to digest.

After the final 6-2 Stars' win at the Gardens, coach John Brophy's Leafs snapped out of it to win three of their last five.

Minnesota would not win another game that season, allowing the Leafs to pass them in victories (32-30) to break a fourth-place Norris Division tie of 70 points each.

Once more, the Leafs rode that momentum to a first-round win over the Blues, then blowing a 3-1 series lead to Detroit.

1988: TURTLE DIARIES

This saga still gives the NHL playoff system a bad name.

After New Year's Day '88, the Leafs would win just seven games while enduring 16 losses or ties where the opposition scored five or more goals. Not to be outdone, Minnesota won just six after Jan. 1 and finished at 19-48-13. On the last night of their schedule, the Leafs upset the high-flying Red Wings 5-3 behind goaltender Allan Bester.

"It took 80 games to play the way we knew we can," Leafs winger Gary Leeman said.

The Leafs had to wait a day for Calgary to beat the Stars to confirm they were in, but they lost in six games to Detroit.

2001: THE CUJO CAPER

Despite a healthy record and the addition of Gary Roberts and Shayne Corson to the lineup, the Leafs entered the final weekend in playoff peril.

The Bruins were poised to pass them for the eighth and final spot in the tight Eastern Conference if they could beat the Devils or Islanders and have Toronto lose its back-to-back road finales to Chicago and Ottawa.

The Sens were rounding into Cup contenders and looking for revenge after Toronto had knocked them out of the playoffs the previous spring.

Fans in Ottawa were anticipating a Sunday roast of the Leafs when Toronto struggled on offence against the Hawks, but Curtis Joseph emerged the hero in a 1-0 win. Ottawa crushed the Leafs the next day and Boston beat the Isles, but the Chicago shutout proved the difference.

With a week off to shore up their game, the Leafs swept Ottawa in the first round, but then lost to the Devils in seven.


Videos

Photos