Two for the road

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:16 AM ET

NEW YORK -- The story of this Maple Leafs season couldn't make any sense until they put two Ws on the same line.

For the first time since late last March, Toronto has delivered back-to-back victories and suddenly there is some clarity. Toronto lit up the previously stingy Rangers 4-1 last night at Madison Square Garden, and coupled with a win in Pittsburgh on Thursday, improved to 5-4-2-1. They are almost as close to first place in the Northeast Division as they are to last.

"Nice to see a streak, if you can call it that," defenceman Hal Gill said with a laugh. Gill combined with first star Vesa Toskala in a near-perfect job holding Jaromir Jagr from his usual demolition derby. "When we play good team defence, we're successful."

Mats Sundin didn't care that he was shut out from improving his position among the NHL's top scorers, just relieved that Toronto swept the road swing after wasting big points at home.

"When you consider the Pittsburgh game (a 5-2 win), we've played two games with key guys out and not given two offensive teams any speed through the neutral zone," Sundin said.

Speaking of streaks, goalie Toskala is heading for his fourth start in a row tomorrow against the Washington Capitals, the fight for mesh supremacy with Andrew Raycroft all but clinched. Toronto has a shot at its first three-game run since last January, when another injury-depleted lineup put together five wins.

"When the team is playing better, I'm able to see the puck," Toskala said of his 32 saves. "I don't know why things have turned around. Maybe we're coming together as a team. This was our first trip and we went out for a few dinners."

After a 10-game search for a healthy and productive lineup, coach Paul Maurice brought back the entire crew from the Pittsburgh game.

"Vesa has started to work it out with his defence," Maurice said. "He was really solid in there and that brought confidence to the bench. Even when there were some big scrums (Toskala was knocked into his own cage a couple of times) we just had that feeling he was going to stop it."

With the MSG fans starting to get frustrated with their high-priced team that has only three wins and 16 goals thus far, Toronto exploded for three goals in eight minutes in the second period.

Defenceman Pavel Kubina beat the seemingly unbeatable Henrik Lundqvist with a screen shot, ending about 126 minutes of the New York goalie's shutout streak. Then Gill pinched at the end of a long Toronto forecheck to keep the puck alive for John Pohl's game-winner. Nik Antropov bumped up his league-high plus-minus to 12 with his sixth goal in eight games and Chad Kilger added an empty-netter.

Jagr used Gill as a screen for New York's only goal, albeit his 62nd point in 41 games against Toronto. But the nine goals in two games have now pulled the Leafs ahead in goals for and against, 46-45.

The only smudge for the Leafs last night was their power play, which was 0-for-2, not getting even a shot on its second opportunity.


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