Leafs refuse to lose

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Thanks to an improbable run no one saw coming, the Maple Leafs in a sense are back right where they started.

After an outstanding game by sophomore Matt Stajan, who scored in overtime to give them a 4-3 victory against the New York Islanders, the Leafs find themselves three points behind the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with just three games to play.

Back on March 23, the Leafs were four points out when they went into Montreal and were crushed in back-to-back games by the Canadiens. The Tampa Bay Lightning now is three points up on Toronto as the regular season nears its unpredictable end.

"As far as scoring big goals, for sure it is my biggest game as a Leaf," said Stajan, who also scored in the third period last night and was named first star.

"I felt great out there. I think a lot of the guys did, and the confidence is up."

No wonder.

The Leafs, with Jean-Sebastien Aubin in goal for each of their past nine games, have gone 7-0-0-2 to earn 16 of 18 points since the losses in Montreal. Toronto has 86 points, Tampa 89, and the Atlanta Thrashers, who last night beat the Washington Capitals, 87.

Like the Leafs and Thrashers, the Lightning has three games left, including a home-and-home with the Carolina Hurricanes starting tonight in Raleigh, N.C. Tampa finishes Tuesday at home against the Capitals.

Toronto plays at home tomorrow against Ottawa, is in Buffalo on Sunday and entertains Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

The Thrashers play host to Boston tomorrow before road games in Washington on Monday and Florida on Tuesday.

"We're just worried about ourselves and doing what we can do to control our own fate to win games," Darcy Tucker said. "What other people do, we can't control. If we for some reason don't happen to (make the playoffs), we can take what we have learned here into next year. But we are not concentrating on anything but winning games and we have to rely on Carolina to play well and whoever to beat Atlanta."

Tucker, who also had a strong evening, set a great screen on a shaky Garth Snow in the extra period. That allowed Stajan to come out and beat Snow with a backhand with 1:08 left for Toronto's second overtime win in as many games.

There might have been disappointment among the announced crowd of 10,430 at Nassau Coliseum, but with much fewer people actually in attendance, it was hard to tell.

Tucker and Mats Sundin also scored for the Leafs. Aubin made 23 saves, including a large one on Alexei Yashin with just over a minute left in regulation.

With 72 points in 67 games, Sundin is guaranteed of averaging more than a point a game in one season since 1998-99, when he had 83 points in 82 games.

Robert Nilsson, Trent Hunter and Shawn Bates scored for the Islanders.

Coach Pat Quinn was asked if the Leafs were going to be the hottest team to miss the playoffs.

"Don't even think about that part," Quinn said.

"We're going to make it."


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