Leafs' joy may be short-lived

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

After a seven-game losing streak ended Tuesday, where does that leave the fragile psyche of the Maple Leafs?

"How many stairs (down) were there to the base of the slump?" coach Paul Maurice asked rhetorically. "And how many stairs did we climb (Tuesday night)? I don't know the answer to that. But I know that when they come back to the rink, the coach won't be screaming at all of them. They'll just walk in the front door and they can feel good about the practice from there."

Tuesday's win over Tampa Bay may have been like a cold drink of water for the Maple Leafs after weeks in a sweltering desert, but time, and the NHL schedule, waits for no man. Or team. Best that can be said is that, perhaps fortified with an extra ounce or two of brittle confidence, the Leafs will board a jet for Raleigh where the Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes await.

And you can count on Carolina being in ill humour. The Hurricanes just got back from a fruitless Western swing that netted them exactly one point in four games. In their game at Denver, they blew a 2-1 third-period lead and by tomorrow night they'll have had four days to chew on that bit of misery. Sound familiar?

REFRESHING

So, as refreshing as Tuesday's win may have been for the Leafs, it will be forgotten quickly unless they can build on it. And once they're finished with the Hurricanes, the Leafs come home to face the red-hot New York Rangers Saturday night. Heading into tonight's game in Minneapolis, the Rangers have won seven of their past 11 and three of the four losses in that skein were in overtime or shootouts. That's 17 of a possible 22 points.

Even though NHL teams get no style points, Maurice at least was comforted somewhat through the losing streak that the team was not as bad as its record might indicate and doesn't feel that massive changes in strategy or in personnel are warranted.

"We were not horrific in this stretch,'" he said. "It wasn't 60 minutes of looking like we'd never played the game before. We had leads in three of those games and had it go south on us in the third. So, there's just a little bit more confidence in the way we handle the puck."

On so many nights, it's a very fine line between winning and losing. As impressive as the Leafs were in rallying from a 3-1 deficit against the Lightning, one bad break in the final couple of minutes could have sent them reeling to their eighth loss in a row.

After Martin St. Louis scored with less than three minutes remaining, the Lightning had several close calls around the Toronto net that could have sent the game to overtime and an uncertain finish. Having said that, the Leafs didn't collapse and held on. When it was over, they were able to look to some of the positives that came out of the game, rather than dwell on another loss.

When the Leafs are at their best they are a relentless forechecking outfit that can create plenty of offensive opportunities off turnovers. They did that effectively early on against Tampa, then drifted away from that style. Maurice went up one side of his players and down the other during a second period tirade that turned the tide. From that point on, the Leafs played aggressively in all parts of the rink. That includes going hard to the net, both with the puck and without it.

"We need to pound the puck and drive the net as a staple of our game," Maurice said.

Defensively, Pavel Kubina is starting to look like the player the Leafs believed they were getting when they shelled out $5 million US a season to get him in the off-season. The past two games, especially, he has been more physically aggressive and generally more assertive on the ice.

"I think he's starting to get his legs under him, starting to skate a lot better," said Maurice, who also was pleased with the season debut of Carlo Colaiacovo on the blue line.

"Carlo looked as relaxed on the ice as he did at any time I watched him play last year," Maurice said.

That said, there's little likelihood of any lineup changes for the game tomorrow.

After all, why tinker with a winning combination?

Now there's something you don't hear very day down in Leafland.


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