No fun in sun for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:04 AM ET

They're among the luckiest people in Toronto, leaving for a southern road trip the day the city is digging out from 25 cm of snow.

But captain Mats Sundin assures the Maple Leafs won't be shaking the beach sand in their skates this week when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.

"That was the 1970s," Sundin laughed yesterday of the past novelty of Sun Belt hockey. "Every point on this trip will be important. It's a chance to go into the Christmas holidays (on a high note)."

The Leafs tend to be men of their word on this subject.

Toronto's road record in Carolina, both Florida cities and Atlanta is a combined 54-33-13-2 since the most recent NHL expansion and Hartford's move to Raleigh/Greensboro.

ANGRY OPPONENTS

Coach Paul Maurice said all three teams on this trip will be in an "angry" mood for the Leafs, even the Hurricanes, who jumped to a big lead in the Southeast Division before falling back this month.

The Panthers and Lightning are right behind the Leafs in the battle for a low playoff seed.

Toronto, which is 1-1 in its first two tests of seven consecutive road games, will have to work rookie Swedish defenceman Anton Stralman into the mix as it adjusts to the long-term loss of Bryan McCabe.

"It was a little tough to be sent down," Stralman said of his seven-game, minus-4, zero points debut in late October. "But I played well (11 assists in 21 games with the Marlies) and got a lot of ice time. There is a big difference between Europe and this hockey, but hopefully, I'm better prepared."

Winger Matt Stajan missed yesterday's practice with the flu, but should play in Carolina.


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