WASHINGTON -- With their captain on the cusp of returning to the lineup, the Maple Leafs stuffed any previous claims they could not cope without him with a major exclamation mark.
Toronto used a couple of quick bursts last night to beat the Washington Capitals 7-1 before the 14,892 fans at the Verizon Center who bothered to interrupt their U.S. Thanksgiving festivities to take in a National Hockey League game.
"When your best player goes out, as a team we take it upon ourselves to step our game up," Michael Peca said. "Darcy (Tucker) has been on fire, the big Russians (Nik Antropov, actually a Kazakh, and Alexei Ponikarovsky, in truth a Ukrainian) have been playing exceptionally well.
"The big thing is we have been doing it by committee. When your go-to guy is out of the lineup it gives a team an opportunity to really build some character and confidence and we have done that."
Defenceman Bryan McCabe ran his points streak to eight games last night with a goal, Tucker has scored in four consecutive games and Kyle Wellwood has a goal in three consecutive games. Tomas Kaberle has points in four consecutive games.
After being victimized in a loss to Buffalo by what they thought was poor officiating, the Leafs didn't have to worry about the officials last night. Another potential problem, Alexander Ovechkin, was held to one goal.
"I don't know what it was, we just did a good job on him," McCabe said. "We didn't give him too much room to wind it up. Guys were getting in his face and finishing their checks."
Wellwood and Peca put the Leafs ahead 2-0 in a span of one minute 41 seconds before the game was three minutes old as both beat Brent Johnson.
The Leafs went one better on themselves midway through the second when three of them tried their best imitations of Sweeney Schriner, Harry Taylor and Pep Kelly. They nearly pulled it off.
That trio scored three goals in 39 seconds on Jan. 20, 1940, against the New York Americans to set a franchise record for the fastest three.
Alas, McCabe, Jeff O'Neill and Hal Gill needed a full minute to score goals for Toronto.
Matt Stajan also scored for the Leafs, who improved to 7-3-2 on the road. Last season, they did not record their seventh road win until Dec. 27.
"We're going to have a hard time fitting Sundin in our lineup," coach Paul Maurice said with a small smile. "I think we will make room. I think there is confidence in the room now."
A Forwards: The Capitals goaltending may have been suspect, but the Leafs did well in burying chances when they had them. That does not always happen.
A Defence: The Capitals did not get a chance to do much, and most tellingly, Alexander Ovechkin was not a large factor.
A Goaltending: Andrew Raycroft did not break much of a sweat, facing only 23 shots, but he did have to make an odd tough save.