Division horror show

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

The Maple Leafs can't help but watch the scoreboard and they can't be blamed for doing so in a peek between the fingers, horror-movie sort of way.

Their nightmare is coming true, however, as none of the clubs they have to catch in the Eastern Conference playoff race are faltering.

The Leafs arrived at Lakeshore Lions Arena yesterday nine points behind each of the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning after all won the night before. Here's a piece of good news for the Leafs, no matter how tiny it may be -- they didn't lose further ground last night because none of those teams played.

"It's tough to see them keep winning, but we have to play hard no matter what, it doesn't matter," said defenceman Tomas Kaberle, the lone Leaf who remains on schedule to play in all 82 games. "We just don't talk about it, we don't even think about it. There is still hope."

The Leafs play host to the Buffalo Sabres twice in three nights starting tonight, and they have not done well in those situations. The Leafs visited the Ottawa Senators for back-to-back games in January and the Canadiens for a pair a week ago. Toronto lost all four.

When the dust settles in 2 1/2 weeks, the Leafs won't have to look any further than their results within their division to figure what went wrong. They're 9-15-3 versus Northeast opponents, and the 18 total losses in their division ties them for last in the conference in that category with the Boston Bruins. Of their 10 remaining games, five are against division rivals.

"We're going to try to win as many as we can and see where we are after that,"captain Mats Sundin said. "We're going to have to play some of our best hockey of the season and then hope for one of the other teams to stumble."

One player who is unlikely to get an opportunity to help, at least for tonight, is goalie Mikael Tellqvist. It's all but certain Jean-Sebastien Aubin will get his third consecutive start after wins against New Jersey and Philadelphia.

The end of the bench is not a spot Tellqvist either expected or wanted to find himself in this late in the season, but he has not been as sharp as he should be. Both Tellqvist and Aubin know the final stretch serves as an audition of sorts for next season, though Tellqvist is under contract for next season.

SUPPORT THE TEAM

"Whatever is good for the team," Tellqvist said. "I'm here to support the team and as long as we are winning, I would do the same thing - go with the hot guy. You always want to play, but that's the way it is. If I was disappointed I would not say it anyway."

At least the Leafs didn't have to turn on their TVs last night.

"Watching has not been fun from our standpoint because we have not been doing as well as we like," Quinn said. "We don't like where we are, but we are still kicking at the can."


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