Leafs feed the frenzy

Jason Blake celebrates his goal during the second period Monday night. SUN MEDIA/Dave Abel

Jason Blake celebrates his goal during the second period Monday night. SUN MEDIA/Dave Abel

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

Two weeks ago they were poised to be run out of town. Now they are the talk of the town.

General manager John Ferguson Jr. has not been tarred and feathered, head coach Paul Maurice is not scouring the want ads and hey, the only boos from the capacity Air Canada Centre crowd these days are aimed at the referees, not the home team.

Such is the topsy-turvy world of the Maple Leafs, a world this panicking city figured was coming to an end just 15 days ago.

Calls for Ferguson's head resonated from Pickering to Port Credit, with Maurice also mentioned prominently as a candidate for the hang man's noose. Of course, now that the Leafs have rebounded with five victories in six games since that collective outcry for change, a sense of calm has settled over the so-called Centre of the Hockey Universe.

Only in Toronto.

"Sometimes you need an absurd amount of pressure to get things going," Maurice summed up after the Leafs 6-1 thrashing of the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning last night. "So absurd you think entire game of hockey could be called off based on the way the Leafs are playing.

"It helps put things into perspective."

There is no secret for the holiday festivity that circulated through the swank Bay St. arena last night as the home fans got their final live look at their zeroes-turned-heroes prior to the arrival of Santa Claus.

The Leafs, in fact, don't play in Toronto again until a Dec. 29 meeting against the New York Rangers. Sandwiched between home dates are seven road games.

Of course, a visit from the Lightning always provides a perfect holiday feast for a Toronto team that is now 36-11-2-1 against Tampa.

The lasting impression of the Leafs' final pre-Christmas performance on home ice will be a four-goal explosion in a span of 4:42 of the second period that snapped a scoreless tie. Toronto's struggling power play, which had gone just 3-for-37 in the previous eight games, scored twice in that span.

Captain Mats Sundin, who joined Chad Kilger, Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood and the suddenly offensively-gifted Hal Gill with two points apiece, didn't quite call it the "a--kicking" that Lightning coach John Tortorella referred to. Nevertheless the veteran Swede figures his roller-coaster team finally may have turned the corner.

"I think we keep doing a lot of good things," Sundin said. "We are playing better in all aspects, especially defensively. But they didn't really appear to have their legs."

The Leafs have reasons to be optimistic.

There is Jason Blake who now has scored in back-to-back games. There is Wellwood, who still seems to have a few flakes of rust from his September groin surgery but seems to be on the right track, notching a pair of assists against Tampa.

There is goalie Vesa Toskala, who has nailed down the starter's job by not allowing more than two goals in any of the past six games. He even drew an assist last night.

The Lightning, meanwhile, suffered a potentially huge blow midway through the second period when Brad Richards slammed into the boards while chasing the Leafs' Tomas Kaberle for the puck.

Richards was seen limping out of the Air Canada Centre after the game.

Not like Leafs, who left the building with a bit of swagger in their gait.


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