Momentum moving

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

Whether they are playing for their lame-duck general manager or their personal pride, the improving Maple Leafs are trying to toss a wrench into the potential plans of the suits running Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd.

It might not be enough, since the organization appears to be closing in on a deal to bring in former Toronto GM Cliff Fletcher, one that could be finalized within days.

But should the Leafs manage to weave together a fourth consecutive victory when they take to the ice for a rare late-afternoon clash in Newark against the New Jersey Devils today, beleaguered GM John Ferguson, whether it is too late or not, at least will have something to hang his hat on.

What a difference a week makes.

Seven days ago the weary-eyed Leafs were winging their way back home on a red-eye flight, leaving behind a disastrous journey through California that featured consecutive losses to the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

WIDESPREAD PANIC

The widespread panic that greeted them upon their arrival in Toronto was punctuated by public calls for the dismissal of Ferguson and, to a lesser extend, coach Paul Maurice.

By Monday, Leafs officials had contacted Fletcher, a member of the Phoenix Coyotes organization, about his possible interest in becoming the interim GM of the team.

Since that time, the Leafs have reeled off three consecutive victories, including an impressive 4-2 win over the struggling Buffalo Sabres at the Air Canada Centre last night.

Coincidence? The players themselves aren't certain of that. They just want to keep the momentum going.

"You never want to hear bad things being said about a teammate or any member of the organization like (Maurice) or (Ferguson)," said forward Alex Steen, named the game's first star after collecting a goal and an assist. "We're like a family in here, and it hurts when you hear things like that.

"I credit (our turnaround) to the leadership on this team. As we've said all along, we can't control anything that goes on beyond the walls of this room or the boards in this rink."

Said Maurice: "We feel a lot better about ourselves right now."

Knowing Fletcher, he likely has been monitoring the Leafs' performance while on vacation with his wife on the Mexican Riviera. It's doubtful that you can find a show called Hockey Night in Mexico on the local Cancun television station but if there was a way to keep track of the blue-and-white, Fletcher would find it.

Of course, to this point, the i's have not been dotted nor have the t's been crossed on a deal between the Leafs and Fletcher. In fact, Sun Media columnist Scott Morrison made the point on Hockey Night in Canada last night that, while a reunion between the Leafs and Fletcher might seem imminent, it will be interesting to see how much Fletcher might demand -- and whether the brass is willing to accept those terms.

HOLD OFF COMEBACK

While the front-office follies are well documented, there can be no denying the success the team suddenly is enjoying on the ice.

Having not won a game in regulation time since Dec. 14, the Leafs managed to accomplish the feat with a 5-4 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday. A rare shootout victory in Boston Thursday was followed by last night's triumph, one in which the Leafs held off the Sabres comeback bid in the third period.

Down by three goals at one point, the Sabres narrowed the gap to 3-2 before Jason Blake put the final dagger into the visitors hearts with his ninth of the season at 13:14 of the third period.

Then it was off to New Jersey, where the quest for four goes today.

The saga continues.

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REPLAY

TURNING POINT

Jason Blake beat Alex Kotalik to a puck at the boards with the Sabres pressing to tie the game, raced down the wing, used Matt Stajan as a decoy and blew a slapshot past Ryan Miller at 13:14 to put Toronto up 4-2.

SO CLOSE

Dominic Moore almost had his first goal as a Leaf in the first period when a puck deflected up high over Miller but it landed on the goal line. The play was reviewed and Toronto had to settle for a 1-0 first-period lead.

HE'S BACK!

Alex Ponikarovsky scored his second goal in his past three games after going without a goal for 13 games.

POWER SWITCH

The Leafs' first two goals came on the power play. The club's power play had fallen to 27th in the league but the two goals continue a steady improvement. It gave the Leafs six power-play goals in their past five games.

QUOTABLE

"Maybe their arms will be tired." -- Leafs head coach Paul Maurice at yesterday morning's workout on facing the Sabres the night after their 10-goal explosion.


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