Half full or half empty?

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

For the past two years, the Maple Leafs have watched other teams shout 'Bingo!' on the last weekend of the schedule while Toronto's card came up agonizingly shy by a couple of numbers.

The Leafs already are a few chips behind everyone in this year's game, the second half of which starts Saturday against Philadelphia. They've wasted home games, bonus points, opposing backup goalies, some great nights from their own Vesa Toskala and another big year from aging captain Mats Sundin. They were spinning their wheels in a pack of 10 teams between 40 and 45 points before last night.

Here's what the Leafs need to fill up a Bingo card in their final 41 games:

UNDER THE B

Bryan McCabe. He was written off once this year after a comedy of errors and came back to play a solid 30 minutes a night, mostly in his zone. If he comes back with no hindrance from a broken hand later this month, it will take pressure off the four principal defencemen now over-extending themselves in his absence.

B also is for Mark Bell and Wade Belak and even Bates Battaglia for that matter. Every playoff contender has a fourth line that contributes something other than the odd crowd pleasing hit at home. Bell was advertised as a potential shift disturber as a younger, healthier Darcy Tucker once was. As for some speed, if Jiri Tlusty is not the answer, this is the perfect chance for another Marlie call-up or a low-risk trade for general manager John Ferguson.

UNDER THE I

Intensity. Where it has gone in the last minutes of so many crucial games, only the spirit of Doug Gilmour knows. Twice the Leafs have given up points to the last-place Tampa Bay Lightning in the final seconds, just the tip of the trouble. Alexei Ponikarovsky is still having nightmares about that empty net in Carolina.

The Leafs have to get hungrier on the power play, a unit of proven scorers that should be whipping the puck around like the Harlem Globetrotters or going to the net for rebound candy. Yet they operate with the speed of a Sunday-in-the-park chess match.

UNDER THE N

Northeast Division games. The Leafs have 18 remaining with their lodge brothers, including the final eight of the schedule, up to an April 5 finale against the Canadiens.

Early returns aren't great, 4-6-4 this season in keeping with sub-.500 divisional records since the lockout ended. The biggest Northeast monster to slay likely will be the vastly improving Buffalo Sabres, a team the Leafs play six more times, four at the Air Canada Centre, where the visitors are quite comfortable. Boston has not been a pushover, either, and forget the Battle of Ontario, unless it's a 1-8 playoff match with the Senators.

UNDER THE G

No. 35 for goaltender Vesa Toskala. He was just getting into a nice groove when his groin gave, but he'll be leaned upon heavily down the stretch. Thankfully for the Leafs, they play three games in four nights just once more after next week's trip to California, allowing Toskala the rest he needs.

As for net insurance, the revelation of a groin issue with Toskala makes the arrival of Scott Clemmensen a timely development. The latter will either snap Andrew Raycroft out of his funk or show him the door, unless a Vesa-less Leafs team starts Clemmensen at home and the jumpy Raycroft on the road.

UNDER THE O

Offence, offence, offence. Forty-goal man Jason Blake can't be popping up just once every two months, Alex Steen is now in prime time and Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky must shake Jonas Hoglund Syndrome and score without Sundin.

Also needed to come in from the cold are Kyle Wellwood, Chad Kilger and McCabe.


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