Maple Leafs put hurt on Habs

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:32 PM ET

When a pantheon of star defencemen strode past them on the carpet last night for the opening faceoff, Maple Leafs defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe must have had something good rub off.

The two were on their best behaviour for the gathering of hockey greats, contributing six points and several defensive gems to a 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens in the annual Hall Of Fame Game.

"Borje Salming, Larry Robinson, Rod Langway ... I had chills down my spine just standing there," said McCabe, who played on equal footing with NHL defence scoring leader Kaberle for one of the few times this season. "The points (he matched his two-goal total in one night) don't matter to me. Everyone has to chip in somehow when you've lost the players we have."

Without captain Mats Sundin, starting goalie Andrew Raycroft and with Pavel Kubina still in the Czech Republic with his fiancee and newborn daughter, the Leafs won for the seventh time in eight games and fashioned their first four-game win streak. They put six points between themselves and the Habs, but a dizzying 12 up on the slumping Ottawa Senators.

"Things look good, but we can't get comfortable," cautioned Kaberle, named the Leafs' player of the game by the assembled Hall members.

Kaberle's league-best 17 points is built on his current eight-game streak of seven goals and eight assists. But just as big is McCabe showing the all-round game that made him so valuable last season and netted him a new five-year deal at $28.75 million US, more than Kaberle's new multi-year pact.

McCabe blocked shots, hit, stick-checked, made saves at the blue line and unleashed one of his powerful shots for the game's first goal. Kaberle hopes the long awaited openings McCabe has needed since other teams began keying on his power-play shot are starting to appear. Kyle Wellwood (three assists last night), Darcy Tucker and even Kaberle himself are getting free down low, diverting checkers' attention from McCabe.

"The media and the fans get on Bryan, but he logs a lot of ice time for us," said centre Matt Stajan, who had the winning goal after McCabe's 5-on-3 opener.

It was also the 800th NHL game for McCabe, who represented the absent Sundin in the opening ceremonies with new Hall inductees Patrick Roy, Dick Duff, Harley Hotchkiss, the son of the late Herb Brooks as well as Canadian war veterans from World War II to Afghanistan.

One-time Canadiens star Roy likely grimaced as the Leafs chased Habs starter David Aebischer from the game with four goals, part of 42 shots on him and Cristobal Huet.

But goaltending is not yet a concern for the Leafs with Raycroft out a few days with a groin strain. Jean-Sebastien Aubin beat his home-province team a second time this season.

The 11-5-3 Leafs now get a four-day rest, they'll need it. Michael Peca took a medium-force puck in the face which damaged his bridgework.

"What I enjoyed most was our play in the third period (a sore spot this year)," coach Paul Maurice said. "We started without Sundin and lost Peca, but we had good positioning.

"The happiest guy in the room after the game is Sundin, high-fiving everyone and jumping up and down."

Sundin is one of four Leafs on the just released NHL all-star game ballot with Raycroft, McCabe and Kaberle.

McCabe started and finished the scoring on the power play, of which the Leafs enjoyed eight chances and three goals to Montreal's 0-for-3 mark.

It was the second game in a row the Leafs chased the enemy's starter from the net after roughing up Tim Thomas in Boston.

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REPORT CARD

B+ Forwards: Power play clicked and secondary scorers continue to pick up the slack for captain Mats Sundin.

A Defence: Strong play at both ends with Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe doing the scoring, and the rest doing the little things.

B- Goaltending: Jean-Sebastien Aubin wasn't tested too often, but made some key stops when the score was close.


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