Li'l linemates emerging as giants

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Call them the Five-Nine Line, but size is no joke to these three Maple Leafs.

Jason Blake, Kyle Wellwood and Darcy Tucker view themselves as a two-pronged threat and part of the answer to Leafs inconsistencies. In the past few games, they've gone from misfits and refugees on other lines to a regular shift and second-unit power-play time.

Each of the trio officially is listed at 5-foot-10, though it's an in-house joke at the ACC that the minor hockey player who carries around the Leafs flag during game night opening ceremonies bears an uncanny resemblance to Wellwood.

"We don't play the same kind of game as Mats Sundin, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky," Wellwood said yesterday, referring to the first line, whose shortest member is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. "But either way (physical or finesse) will work."

Tucker is no stranger to the rough going, but injuries have prevented him from playing the Wendel Clark-style he brought to the NHL 12 years ago. He's been more concerned that his scoring has slipped, from 28 after the lockout to 24 in an injury-curtailed 2006-07 and just three in 20 games so far.

Wellwood, shockingly without an assist in his first 10 games back from hernia surgery, now has two in as many games after setting up Blake against the Penguins in a 4-2 win on Saturday. It was Blake's well-documented first goal since Oct. 18.

Though Blake has 16 assists this year, second only to Sundin, he was signed for big bucks based on his 40 goals with the New York Islanders last year and projected as the perfect partner for Sundin.

"They do some unusual things, but they also feed off each other," coach Paul Maurice said of the line.

The coach must now sort out his other lines with an eye to right winger Jiri Tlusty coming back off a collarbone injury this week. Mark Bell replaced Blake with Sundin and scored on Saturday, but with Ponikarovsky now back, his days on the top line appear numbered.

The Leafs also have a point in all three games Wade Belak has dressed for, even though the fourth-liner is limited to between three and five minutes. When Tlusty returns, it might be in Belak's spot with Chad Kilger and either Bell or John Pohl.


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