Raycroft backs new sked

LANCE HORNBY

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

Talk at the board of governors meeting of the NHL schedule going to 84 games in a few years garnered a mixed reaction in the Maple Leafs dressing room yesterday.

While Thursday's announcement that divisional games will be reduced from eight to six next season and 15 games set aside for one match versus the opposing conference was well received, 84 would enable a home and home with all Western teams.

NHL clubs played 84 games between 1992-94 and coincidentally both years the Leafs appeared in the conference championships.

"The schedule is long enough now," said winger Boyd Devereaux. "Going to 84 would be a bit of a sacrifice, but if it means the fans get to see all the teams, that would be good, too."

Goaltender Andrew Raycroft said any schedule matrix that cuts down on divisional play will be welcomed.

"Last year, Pittsburgh got to play Philadelphia eight times, the worst team in the league," he said. "But we had to play Ottawa eight times.

"The new schedule is a good start. The way the playoffs are set up now, it's based on conference not division anyway."

BLAKE STILL STRUGGLING

Winger Jason Blake was back on the ice yesterday after his dogged attempt to stop his scoring drought in Atlanta ended up with him shoved into a heap inside the Thrashers' net. Even netminder Johan Hedberg gave him a pat as the Leafs' trainer tended to the groggy forward.

"You can't say I'm not getting opportunities," Blake said of being stuck at two goals on a team-high 115 shots. "Credit Hedberg, he rushed out at me."

Blake needed the kind of bounce that defenceman Andy Wozniewski had in Atlanta, a shot off of a defenceman, the glass and the back of Hedberg's head for his second of the year.

"We need those breaks," Blake said. "That took the wind out of their sails."

OPEN PRACTICE

Tickets for today's 10 a.m. open practice at the ACC are $6.50 at Ticketmaster, with proceeds to the Leafs Fund.


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