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LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

The hunters will be the hunted when the Maple Leafs embark this week on seven consecutive road games.

While the travel rigours are being exaggerated -- the trip is split into two-game, three-game and two-game increments -- the common denominator is the Leafs will be without the benefit of last line change.

That means those coaches intent on harrassing Mats Sundin, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky can do it power versus power, or apply a combination of a checking line and their best shutdown defensive pairing.

TOUGH ROAD AHEAD

Sundin, who remains in the top 10 for the Art Ross Trophy approaching the middle of the season, expects numerous strategies to be employed against the Leafs during the coming days.

"Certain teams will match their best line against yours," Sundin said. "We're ready, too, but if we have a breakdown, we have to be aware of where their best players are."

In a more offensive-oriented NHL, Antropov says their line tends to face the other club's No. 1 unit rather than three bulldogs. Each has pros and cons as the Leafs' top troika is not built for a speed game or defence, yet its man mountain range -- from Ponikarovsky's 6-foot-4 to Antropov's 6-6 -- makes Toronto dominant down low with the puck.

"(Line matching) is important but we have to look at these games most of all as a huge part of our season," Antropov said. "It's all Eastern Conference teams and a few of them are in that 9th place to 12th place range. We played a lot of home games at the start and didn't (take full advantage). Now we need these games."

Sundin and Antropov (Ponikarovsky replaced Jason Blake on left wing a few games ago) have a combined 69 points in 31 games, or 2.1 a night. Sundin, with 38 points, could be in good shape for his first 100-point season since 1992-93 with the Quebec Nordiques.

Other than recall he played on a line with Owen Nolan and Valeri Kamensky that year, Sundin insists he's doing nothing different on the ice. Instead he credits his much improved mental outlook this season, particulary the past three weeks when the Leafs started winning and silenced their critics for the moment.

"I'm having more fun and I enjoy coming to the rink every day," said Sundin, who has warmed to the role of a father figure among some younger Leafs.

He also seems to reach some kind of milestone every time he plays. In Monday's 6-2 win against Tampa Bay, his two points tied him with Red Wing great Alex Delvecchio for 30th in NHL history. Of those players ahead of him, 19 are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, two are shoo-ins (Steve Yzerman and Brett Hull), four are still active (Joe Sakic, Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Mark Recchi) and the rest include candidates Adam Oates, Doug Gilmour, Luc Robitaille, Dave Andreychuk and Pierre Turgeon.

It has been exactly 70 years since a Leaf won the Art Ross as scoring leader (Gordie Drillon with 52 points in 48 games).

But Sundin claims he reads no farther down than the NHL standings.

"When you reach a certain age, you want to make the playoffs (first)," Sundin said.

The Leafs will make their annual team visit to the Hospital For Sick Children today (many of them make unpublicized trips through the year), then fly to Atlanta this afternoon.


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