Incentive-based win

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Guy Carbonneau has seen this resurrection shuffle by the D.O.A., toe-tagged Maple Leafs many times before, as a player and as a coach of the Canadiens.

"They must have something on their heart," Carbonneau said prior to last night's shocking 4-2 loss, trying to describe the extra gear Toronto always seems to find here.

Dead in the big playoff picture, sure, just don't bury them here. Going right back to the most recent Habs dynasty, the Ballard-era Leafs were always good for a shocker or two every year when playing beneath Montreal's 24 Cup banners.

"It's always a playoff atmosphere, no matter where the clubs are in the standings," captain Mats Sundin said.

Just 48 hours after an 8-0 home drubbing by the Florida Panthers, booed off the ice and falling into the range of first pick overall, the Leafs silenced the would-be division leaders and a Bell Centre crowd of 21,000 that had evicted the usual Leaf Nation weekend invasion.

The Leafs blunted Montreal's top-ranked power play four times, led by 34 Vesa Toskala saves. Missing three of their 6-foot-something forwards, the Leafs did take an awful physical pounding -- most notably, a rag-dolled Darcy Tucker -- and faced the second-best offence in the conference with Sundin centring two kids with a total of 33 NHL games experience.

And while a big deal is made about all of the lopsided losses under Paul Maurice the past two years, the Leafs are now 8-2-1 immediately following a defeat of five or more goals.

"It's great that our young guys can survive (the Florida loss)," Maurice said. "I was confident we'd get (the effort), but with Montreal on a roll, I was worried no one would notice. The key was we got scored on first and didn't fall apart."

They also survived an Alex Kovalev goal in the third period that bit into their 3-1 lead, coming right after Tucker had missed an empty net.

But stability was evident. Bryan McCabe was on the blue line for the first time in two months in what Maurice guessed was the first game this year with six projected starting defencemen.

McCabe had one shot on goal, hardly a test for the three screws in his reconstructed left hand, but was "the happiest guy on the ice".

Second had to be Tucker, the ex-Hab razzed big-time for his devalued stock, but well worth his big contract last night. He survived a thundering jolt from Patrice Brisebois that popped his lid and went on to score twice -- including an empty-netter -- but still has just eight goals this season.

"Yeah, it's been disappointing this year," he said. "But if we keep getting contributions from this group of guys..."

Tucker stopped before saying anything about post-season hopes, even if the Leafs did stay in a pack of nine playoff and non-playoff teams separated by nine points. There will still be treasure-hunting scouts and general managers following the Leafs, specifically Sundin, with the trade deadline 18 days away. Anaheim and Vancouver are believed to be increasing their scope for scoring assistance.

As for Canadiens goalie Carey Price -- called up for a shot at his fourth consecutive win against the Leafs and for some insurance as the schedule clutters up for the Habs -- he was outdueled by Toskala. Leafs fourth-liner Kris Newbury beat him in the first period and Kyle Wellwood, a good bet to get benched for McCabe, re-surfaced with a huge power-play goal.

With all of the injuries, suspensions and other factors decimating the lineup, Sundin traded big-shoulder wingers Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky for Robbie Earl and Jiri Tlusty.

"I don't know if they make me feel younger (or older)," joked Sundin, who gets the suspended Antropov back tomorrow against the Red Wings. "But all of our young guys have played well. We all wanted to forget about Florida. It was an embarassment."

For at least 24 hours, the Leafs are redeemed.


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