Maple Leafs won't let up

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

Now is not the time for the Maple Leafs to be trading in their work boots for kid gloves.

But letting the weaker sisters in the National Hockey League off easy is a big part of why they're on the verge of missing the playoffs themselves. After taking seven of eight difficult points from the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers and most impressively, the Buffalo Sabres, the Leafs get perhaps their last "gift" on the schedule, back-to-back games against the New York Islanders (tonight) and Boston Bruins (tomorrow on the road).

"It seems like we haven't done very well against those kinds of teams," forward Matt Stajan said yesterday. "Washington, for example, has taken three of four games from us."

The Leafs have a record of 12-16 against clubs currently out of a playoff spot.

Unwilling to concede that the Leafs are dead, general manager John Ferguson Jr. and coach Pat Quinn are nonetheless scrutinizing these remaining eight games for any lack of fortitude in any player who is on the bubble for next season.

"This time of year goes a long way to telling you what kind of individuals you have," Quinn said. "There are always things to play for. That's part of learning how to be a good hockey player, the consistency in your approach to the opposition. You can't overlook any games at any time.

"If you're a true pro, you try to come to work every night. It's not about who you're playing; thinking in your mind that 'I can take it easier tonight.' When that (playoff motivation) isn't there, that's when you have to be the pro who takes pride in his work."

Stajan admitted it's getting harder for the Leafs to keep the faith, as the teams immediately ahead of them (Montreal, New Jersey, Tampa Bay and Atlanta) keep winning to negate Toronto's recent success.

"We've been playing tough teams since after the Montreal series and we've done well," Stajan said. "We're not out of it and we're jelling every game with our line combos. But we've needed help and whenever we've been scoreboard watching, there's nothing good to see. All those teams have done well. Give them credit."


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