Somehow, Leafs keep hanging on

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

If it is true that the most dangerous animal is one that is wounded and cornered then the Maple Leafs should be a fearsome sight to behold the next couple days.

They've got the Islanders and Montreasl right where they want them. The rest of the NHL just doesn't know it yet.

This team has more nicks, scratches and blemishes than a frat-house beer fridge. Parts keep falling off, the door is hanging by one hinge but somehow it keeps getting the job done.

When they beat the Flyers Tuesday they did it on goals by three defencemen, against a hot goaltender, with a No. 1 line centred by goal-slump ridden Mats Sundin and a second line centred by someone with the injury yips.

For three-quarters of the season this team couldn't win at home. Now, when it had no choice, it's won eight in a row.

They have had more man-games lost to injury than any other team. Kyle Wellwood, the lynch-pin of the power-play is back from hernia surgery, but skates like he's carrying a Ming Vase in his hockey pants. But, he'll play tonight because without him the Leafs might as well decline the penalty.

"He does so many great things even at the speed he's going. But my concern is the cautiousness in his skating. He can still create some things. But the Kyle that we remembered before the injury was quick to holes. He's not at that point right now," coach Paul Maurice said yesterday.

Wellwood is merely the latest concern for Maurice, who is in charge of the biggest enigma to come wrapped in a mystery since Winston Churchill tried to figure out Russia's next move. Mats Sundin has been on almost a point-per-game clip over the past 18 games, but has scored just once during that time, and remains goalless in the past 10. Darcy Tucker hasn't scored in 11 and Alex Steen's drought is at a dozen. One night the Andrew Raycroft who has tied a team record with 37 wins shows up; next night he looks like a rent-a-goalie whose save percentage ranks 34th in the league.

"None of that stuff matters now. (We've) got to win and we can't have any excuses," Matt Stajan said. "No matter how tired physically or mentally anyone might be we have to get through it or you're going to have a long time to think about it."

Sundin admits the drought that has left him one short of Darryl Sittler's all-time Leafs record has bothered him. Not to mention it is becoming a distraction: "You mean like when (Alex Ponikarovsky) turned around instead of putting the puck in the empty net to look for Mats?" Maurice deadpanned.

That's the Maple Leafs, 2007 version. They do not know the meaning of simplicity. In 10 games this month, seven have been decided by one goal. "I don't mind ... when you can win close games it builds character and courage and the ability to do things under pressure," Sundin said.

The key to alleviate that pressure, Stajan said, will be to score the first goal. "I think it's really important. If we don't and they get the first (goal) you start thinking, 'Oh-oh, they get another one we're in big trouble.' When we get the first goal you can feel the confidence on the bench."

And, if they don't -- as in their 3-2 win against Philadelphia? "We couldn't beat (Martin) Biron. You start thinking the goalie's going to be standing on his head all night ... it can get into your own head. Then the panic sets in."


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