Leafs earn day on golf course

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

TAMPA -- Some of the Maple Leafs chose to break out their golf clubs yesterday, with the simple hope they're not getting clubbed by the end of the week.

Despite absorbing their worst home loss of the season on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks, coach Paul Maurice stuck to his original plan and gave the players yesterday off here in sunny Florida. The Leafs had a choice of spending the day on the golf course or going fishing.

When they hit the ice at noon today for practice at the St. Pete Times Forum, their thoughts will return to what some of them view as the most crucial point of the 2006-07 season -- a stretch of eight games in nine on the road, starting tomorrow evening against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This trip has the Leafs on the other side of the state Thursday to face the Florida Panthers and winds up with a date with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday before the all-star break.

"These games could be the difference in our season," defenceman Tomas Kaberle said. "We're past the halfway mark of the season now, so we have to put some wins together and make eighth spot."

The Leafs have 46 points and are 10th in the Eastern Conference, two behind the eighth-place Lightning. But that could be a four-point bulge if the Lightning wins its game this afternoon in New York against the Islanders. The Isles, with two games in hand over Toronto, hold down ninth with 46 points.

In their trip to Florida in November, the Leafs beat the Lightning but lost to the Panthers the next. On Dec. 29, the Leafs lost in in their only other visit to Pittsburgh this season.

By the time the week ends, it is expected injured forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky, Darcy Tucker and Nik Antropov will be back in the Leafs lineup.

"I don't think it is a bad thing that we are going to be on the road," said forward Matt Stajan, noting the Leafs' 10-8-3 record away from the Air Canada Centre. "Sometimes we try to do too much at home. It will be refreshing to get on the road, keep things simple.

"This is our season here, the next eight or nine games. We have to make sure we stay in it by winning as many as we can."

Stajan was one of many Leafs looking forward to forgetting about hockey for at least a day.

"It will be nice to get to the hot weather and nice for us to do some team stuff," Stajan said. "But we've got to worry about these games coming up."


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