Leafs praying for help

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

Matt Stajan and Darcy Tucker were having a discussion before the Maple Leafs practised yesterday and concluded they couldn't believe they're in their present spot.

"I was talking with Tucks and we have gotten 12 out of a possible 14 points in our past seven games and we have not made ground on anybody," said Stajan after the Leafs worked out at the Air Canada Centre. "It's frustrating, but give (clubs ahead of them) credit, they are winning their games. We didn't do our jobs earlier. We put ourselves in this position, so all we can do now is keep trying to win and hope someone falters big time."

Despite their recent success, the Leafs have 82 points, seven back of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and have made almost no progress in the standings. With five games remaining, Toronto has a game in hand, but even if the Leafs win all of their games, they would hope the Lightning goes 0-4 or 1-3. Only then would the Leafs get into the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season. The Atlanta Thrashers also have five games left, but are in ninth in the conference with 83 points.

The Montreal Canadiens pulled two points ahead of Tampa after winning last night.

Coach Pat Quinn has not missed the playoffs since 1987, when he was behind the bench of the Los Angeles Kings. He knows only a small miracle will have the Leafs playing after they entertain Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins a week from tonight. Speaking of tonight, there is enough to concern themselves with as a couple of healthy ex-Leafs, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk, arrive at the Air Canada Centre with the Florida Panthers.

Perhaps the Leafs can take some solace in the fact they have not lost in regulation, winning five and losing two shootouts, since getting dismantled by the Canadiens in Montreal on March 23 and 25.

"Our guys have played well and we had a mountain to climb and we may have left it too long," Quinn said. "If we don't make it, it will be a frustrating situation. We don't need to think about the frustration -- we need to keep winning games, there is no other alternative."

Quinn, who likely will ride Jean-Sebastien Aubin until he loses or the Leafs officially are eliminated from post-season contention, said his players probably did not peer into the mirror enough this season. By extension, the leadership of people such as Roberts, Nieuwendyk and Tom Fitzgerald was missed.

"One of the principles this team chose for themselves was accountability, and we struggled with that concept all year long," Quinn said. "Right now, we are not struggling with it. We have accepted where we are and how we have to play to maximize the skill level we have."

Injuries have killed the Leafs at times, and one has to wonder how much more joy they would have had if Mats Sundin, Bryan McCabe, Jason Allison and Eric Lindros had been healthy for the majority of the season.

"It took us a long time to find out about ourselves," Tie Domi said. "We're taking it one game at a time, using the old hockey cliches. It's all we can do now."


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