Well, it's a start for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

BOSTON -- All that blarney about being alive in the playoff race means nothing if 28th-place Maple Leafs can't beat the teams directly above them in the division.

Even after their 3-2 shootout win here over the Boston Bruins, the Leafs still need a long ladder to get out of a five-point playoff deficit, but have managed their first back-to-back wins in a month. Now in a three-way tie for 12th in the conference, they have a shot at passing the Buffalo Sabres in the Northeast with a third victory tomorrow.

The Leafs still need more than 20 wins in their remaining 35 games, and we're not talking about the three-point variety such a last night's.

"When teams are as close as they are in our division, there is no time to waste," said captain Mats Sundin, who joined flu-ridden linemate Alex Steen with a shootout goal. "Starting with our game in San Jose (the 11th loss in 13 games that put a death watch on general manager John Ferguson and coach Paul Maurice), we've played smarter."

Toronto won just its second shootout in five tries this year, turning the tables on the trap-happy Bruins with a late second-period goal followed by a mostly disciplined third.

Sundin avenged an earlier breakaway miss on B's goalie Alex Auld in the shootout, while Vesa Toskala blanked Phil Kessel and Marc Savard.

Steen had joked earlier about beating a path to the bathroom the past few days to shake the flu bug, having missed Tuesday's 5-4 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

"We'll feed him some bad food on the plane and keep him under the weather," said Maurice, able to crack the odd joke again after a pall blanketed the team in California. "With all the things going on, I still believe in the leadership in that room. This won't be a classic game in 10 years, but we'll take the points."

Matt Stajan's goal with nine seconds to go in the middle period, following a long press and cycle, was the kind that has killed the Leafs this year. Last night, it was the undoing of Boston, which was seeking its fifth win in seven games.

"That was the difference with that much time on the clock," Maurice said of Stajan and linemates Jason Blake and Alexei Ponikarovsky pinning down the Bruins.

Before the game, Maurice warned his players that they couldn't "ram our offence down their throat," or, in other words, get victimized by Boston's sound transition game.

"When you lose ground in this league, it's so hard to make it up," said Bruins' Toronto-born forward Glen Metropolit. "Every night becomes a big game, because you know that after 82 of them, it's going to come down to a point or two."

The Leafs could have won it outright when Andrew Ference high-sticked Darcy Tucker and drew blood with four minutes to go in the third. But a sloppy power play forced Pavel Kubina into a tripping call to stave off a breakaway. Still, the blunders were kept to a minimum.

"All of our young guys played well tonight, Steen, Anton Stralman and Andy Wozniewski," Sundin said.

The line of Steen, Sundin and Nik Antropov was about the only one able to penetrate the tight Boston defence through the first two periods.

Stajan's goal eclipsed last year's total of 10, while Steen celebrated his 100th NHL point.

Defenceman Zdeno Chara and Marco Sturm scored for Boston, now 3-0-1 against the Leafs this year.


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