Quinn shakes his head

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

The idea of missing the playoffs is galling enough to Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn.

But what could eat at him all summer is believing his team was capable of pulling off a first-round upset and going deep into the Stanley Cup tournament.

"It's looking more and more that if you get there, who knows what's possible?" Quinn said yesterday morning, before the Leafs put an unbeaten streak of 5-0-2 on the line. "You saw all the teams (in the East) struggle at different times and if you hit the ground running at the right time who knows?"

Clubs who sometimes scratch and claw their way into the post-season tournament have a stronger playoff mentality than a frontrunner, which has no real pressure in April and lets key players rest. The 1999-2000 St. Louis Blues -- winners of the Presidents Trophy as the best team in the regular season -- were upset by the San Jose Sharks in their first test and three recent 100-point Ottawa Senators teams were stuffed in the first round, thanks to the Leafs.

WHY?

"Often how you finish is a good harbinger of what's to come," Quinn said. "To see us play now and seeing us play (badly) in certain stretches ... to try and understand why we didn't win will take a long time."

The Leafs remain in sight of 40 wins and 90 points, something all but one Quinn-coached team has done since he arrived here in 1998. But Quinn took no solace in such a record.

"I never put a numbers target up," he said. "That's not what being a good team is all about. I've always believed you'll get the numbers if you do the work properly.

"In years prior, we always had a point where we were challenged. But we got stuck in an adversity quagmire longer than was reasonable. Obviously, we would have changed it if we could have. So we are where we are -- 90 points or 40 wins won't be vindication. We'll possibly miss the playoffs."

Forward Kyle Wellwood agreed that a good won-loss record is little cheer about.

"Last place or ninth place, it's still the same result -- no playoffs," he said.


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