Leafs buoyed by recent play

TERRY KOSHAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

There was a time, not long ago, when Maple Leafs misery was as synonymous with the city of Buffalo as chicken wings, house fires and winter storms.

And though the Anchor Bar continues to produce delicious wings, the sale of fire extinguishers appears to be stagnant and Mother Nature loves to dump on the Queen City, no longer is a Leafs visit to HSBC Arena guaranteed-loss night.

UNLIKELY VICTORIES

For the Leafs, who are in Buffalo tonight to celebrate captain Mats Sundin's 37th birthday, this is a good thing. Outside of the dressing room, anyone who knows which end of a hockey stick goes on the ice has the Leafs dead and buried.

But the Leafs are buoyed thanks to a couple of unlikely victories in their past two games against the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens.

Furthermore, after losing all four games in Buffalo in the season after the lockout, Toronto won twice there in 2006-07 and in two games this season have an overtime loss and a victory. That gives the Leafs seven wins in Buffalo since the HSBC Arena opened 12 years ago.

"We are playing with a lot of confidence, and we like going in there," forward Matt Stajan said after practice yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "There are a lot of Leafs fans who come down and we have to keep this thing rolling."

Forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky (shoulder) and Chad Kilger (personal reasons) are expected to be back in the lineup tonight, though final decisions on both will be made following the morning skate.

The tilt with the Sabres kicks off a three-game set against Eastern Conference teams that are within shouting distance in the charge to the playoffs.

The Leafs, who had 55 points and were seven behind the eighth-place Sabres, play host to the New York Islanders tomorrow night and entertain the Boston Bruins on Saturday.

The Sabres have fallen on hard times without Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, though top defenceman Brian Campbell told reporters in Ottawa yesterday that he expects to be with the club next season. Campbell and the Sabres have been trying to negotiate a long-term contract extension, but in the meantime, speculation has Campbell being shipped out, possibly to the Chicago Blackhawks.

"(A trade) doesn't concern me right now," Campbell said. "Buffalo is where I believe I'll be at the end of the year. I feel strongly about it but I do know it's out of my control. I'm focused on the Sabres and that's it."

LONG ODDS

No athlete worth his salt would send the white flag up the pole. So the Leafs are sticking to the idea they're not out of it, even though they realize the odds are long.

"We're getting close to make-it or break-it time," defenceman Hal Gill said. "But the next four or five games will go a long way to showing if we can leapfrog over those guys.

"It's a chance to take some points from them and keep them from getting any because there's too many three-point games out there. Sometimes, like last year, we were playing really well, but everyone was getting at least a point and that can make it difficult to gain ground."


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