Leafs are a real mystery

BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

To become a good fan of the Maple Leafs it is not a prerequisite to be bipolar. It is not necessary to be the owner of a split personality. But it certainly would help.

Just when it seems possible to peg these characters with a Charlie Brown complex they'll go and do something silly - like make the Boston Bruins blow up real good.

The Maple Leafs are the sports world equivalent to Austin Powers. They are men of mystery.

Being a Maple Leafs' fan means waking up as a disillusioned pessimist and going to bed an optimist with visions of sugar plums and Carlton the Bear dancing in your head.

This team has more personalities than Jekyl and Hyde and more different looks than Lon (The Man Of A Thousand Faces) Chaney.

Pessimists look and -- in the wake of the 5-1 demobilization of the Bruins -- still see a team that has lost five of its last seven and, since Remembrance Day has won a mere seven games.

An optimist looks at the same numbers and argues with a couple more bounces like Kris Newbury got Monday this team could be knocking on fourth place within a week! Afterall, as the flashy finish against Boston showed, our two-period wonders already have kept their New Year's resolution and learned to count to three.

Two games; two tales of the tape: A pessimist sees Bryan McCabe hitting Jordan Staal on the tape to boos. An optimist sees McCabe feathering a pass through a forest of limbs and sticks, hitting Mats Sundin for the tip-in to oohs 'n' aahhs. Both see the same player; both come away with different opinions.

One season J.S. Aubin looks like Johnny Bower; the next he looks, well, like Andrew Raycroft -- in other words the Leafs netminding is a bit like that snack food commercial that brags that: "You never know what you've got". In hockey, unlike snacks, this is not a good thing.

Injuries. A pessimist suggests this is the root of all Leafs' evil.

An optimist sees John Pohl scoring. He sees Alex Steen gaining confidence. He sees Newbury thumping Stanislav Chistov upside the head with the greatest of glee. So, it's a good thing. The kids are showing they can be counted on to help out; they're gaining confidence and the veterans will come back well-rested for the stretch run.

It's all so confusing. And, it's not going to get any easier -- either for the guys playing or the ones cheering.

As any pessimist will note, they play 10 of the next 14 on the road. To which an optimist can argue, the only teams they really have to beat are Ottawa and Boston and Darcy Tucker could do that with one hand tied.

Not to mention, if he keeps running into walls like Zdeno Chara he might have to. But, I digress. The Senators are a mere shadow of themselves while Boston -- in case you haven't been paying attention -- can today be seen when Mats Sundin looks in the rearview mirror.

Speaking of the Swedish enigma: One week he's being fitted for the public pillory with everyone pointing out that the team has a better record without, rather than with, him in the lineup. But 17 points in the last 11 games says he's still the best thing going in blue and white. So, if you're John Ferguson Jr. do you hold with him, or fold?

For every question about this team there is another question. Just no answers.

So, was that win over the Bruins a fluke? Did Boston have merely an off-night while the only mistake the Leafs made came when Matt Stajan tried to make a quick exit -- and almost stepped through the door to the Bruins' bench?

It's an answer that, bravado aside, even the players might have a difficult time answering honestly.

But, with the Leafs playing division rival Buffalo and the Bruins in four of five outings, if Stajan's wrong turn is the worst thing that happens, the optimists and pessimists may finally have something in common: A playoff team that doesn't rank second in depth to, ohhh, I don't know, a current events debate between Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

Everything else is just perspective.


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