Some southern comfort

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

ATLANTA -- No controversial and/or beleaguered management types leering down at them from the hockey heavens. No bitter fans calling for their scalps. No blaring headlines suggesting they are Team Dysfunctional.

After almost two weeks of trying -- and failing -- the Maple Leafs finally found the recipe for victory last night.

In the wake of his team's 4-2 decision over the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena, maybe coach Paul Maurice should send the following text message to the team braintrust of Richard Peddie, Larry Tanenbaum and John Ferguson:

"Hope you are having fun at the board of governors meetings in Pebble Beach. Play nice with each other, don't bonk each other over the head with your seven irons ... And while you're at it, why don't you spend another month out there? Yours sincerely: Paul."

Okay, so maybe we're stretching things a bit here by expecting Maurice to be that candid.

In reality, then, what would he say to his general manager, who is thousands of kilometres away on the Monterey Peninsula?

"I'd tell him,' Congratulations!' a relieved Maurice said, looking like a man who had just had a monkey -- make that a gorilla -- lifted off his shoulders.

There is no doubt the lack of distractions down here in Dixie was a relief for a Toronto team that exhibited a smothering defence en route to snapping its four-game losing funk.

And Lord knows, there has been plenty of off-ice chaos in recent days.

When fans and media weren't pushing for the dismissal of Maurice and Ferguson, they were reading about how Peddie wondered if his hiring of a rookie general manager four years ago -- in this case Ferguson -- was unfair, given the hockey fishbowl that is Toronto.

No wonder the Leafs were glad to be away from the blue-and-white circus back home.

"We came out ready to play," Maurice said. "We needed to get a good feeling and hopefully we can build on this one."

The Leafs finally got some bounces, crazy ones at that.

Andy Wozniewski's opening goal, for example, was a point shot that hit Thrashers defenceman Niclas Havelid, went off the glass, bounced back off the top of the net, nudged goalie Johan Hedberg in the back and dropped over the goal line.

But the real boost came with four seconds left in the first when Alex Steen's blast went off Hedberg's glove, nudged the post, then found its way into the net, putting the Leafs up 2-0.

The fact that Steen and Stajan both scored bodes well for Maurice's squad. Steen had gone 11 games without finding the back of the net, Stajan 10.

"We've had chances but they just haven't been going in," Steen said. "This was nice, but we still have to remember that our line (of Steen-Stajan-Devereaux) is a defensive unit first."

Mats Sundin also scored for the Leafs, who received a scare late in the game when Jason Blake slammed into the Thrashers net and needed to be helped to his feet.

As he gingerly made his way to the team bus, Blake gave the thumbs up when asked if he would be able to play against the high-flying Pittsburgh Crosbys tomorrow night at the Air Canada Centre.

It will be another difficult test for a Leafs team that finally has a reason to smile for a change.


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