Maurice's messages received on the other end

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

MONTREAL -- For one night at least, Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice had that great feeling a teacher gets when the plodding kid in math class passes the exam.

Many of the defensive tenets Maurice has been trying to instill in the fragile Leafs have not stuck, but in the most unlikely of circumstances last night, the Leafs bought in.

"I'm real happy with four of our past five games," the coach said after pulling out a one-goal win in Montreal.

"We're only 3-2, but they're on the road. It's a real positive sign for us to be able to win in Montreal on a Saturday night in back-to-back games with so much at stake.

"We've asked those three defencemen, Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill, to play heavy minutes with our two defenceman out of our lineup and they've done a real good job.

"I don't know what the numbers are, but Pavel's got to be around 34 minutes tonight (actually just under 29)."

Maurice asked for and received the low-risk game he sought last week in Pittsburgh and New York, only to see his players mess up badly in a 7-1 loss to the Washington Capitals and see points in New Jersey against the Devils slip away on a late short-handed goal two nights ago.

Of course, having goalie Vesa Toskala in San Jose Sharks form with no hint of a goaltending controversy of late has helped immensely."

"(Toskala) came back after that 5-on-3 (Chris Higgins') goal," Maurice said.

"It was just 3-on-2s both ways the rest of the night. We had the chances 12-10 in the second period, I would say eight of them were 3-on-2s.

"I'm not saying that was pretty out there. I know we gave some chances up. But hey, we're taking this one and enjoying every little bit of it.

"It was wide open (but) I thought we got a little better, a little stronger, a little simpler, in the third period.

"Based on coming in here fatigued on a Saturday night in Montreal, I was really proud of the way our team just kind of fought it out."

Not only did the Leafs get a late Matt Stajan goal, they survived an injury scare when Nik Antropov was shoved head first into the end boards.

For a moment, everyone wondered if the big Kazakh's great start would be halted by another serious injury. But he got up and skated away.

DECISIONS

There will be lineup decisions to make as the bolstered Leafs head into Ottawa to play the Senators on Tuesday with Mark Bell and Kyle Wellwood in the lineup.

But suddenly, the decisions Maurice has to make are not as cut and dried as they might have been last week.

"Jiri Tlusty again, very very good," Maurice said of the Czech rookie's play on a line with Stajan and Alex Steen.

Had the Leafs not fallen apart against the Devils, the club would have still been talking up Steen's toe drag deke on New Jersey netminder Martin Brodeur, probably the best of the 52 Leafs goals this season.


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