Leafs respect Jackets

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

The Leafs are going from Family Day right to Columbus Day, hoping to make the most of both.

The Blue Jackets make a rare visit tonight, a Western Conference team ahead of the Leafs in the overall standings, but unsure if it will be a buyer or seller at the trade deadline. Shooting for its first-ever playoff berth will certainly be a short-term boost for player and fan morale, but a Toronto victory could head off playoff fever in Ohio. The Leafs have never lost to Columbus, with a record of 3-0-0-1 since the Jackets entered the league in 2000-01.

"They have a nice mix on their line of Rick Nash, Nikolai Zherdev and David Vyborny," Toronto coach Paul Maurice said. "They're moving and skating all the time."

With opponents gaining even more ground on idle Toronto in the East the past two nights, the Leafs have to build on Saturday's win over Boston as they get into the meat of their five-game homestand.They are eight points out of a playoff spot with five teams to pass, the nearest one now three points away.

Yesterday's new Family Day holiday caught a few Leafs off guard as they came to work in a near-deserted downtown core.

"This is Presidents Day for me," American-born defenceman Hal Gill said.

"We're a family here," Maurice quipped. "We just have some things to clean up in our house."

NO DROP-OFF

Nik Antropov hit the 20-goal milestone for the first time in his career on Saturday and is just two shy of getting 100 as a Leaf. He is also the club's power-play goal leader with nine.

"Nikky's feeling a little love now and I think he's playing better," Maurice said of his forward's eight-year quest to remain healthy enough to last a full season.

Antropov's only absence this year was a three-game suspension.

LOOSE LEAFS

Alex Steen missed yesterday's practice with what Maurice called "a little infection," though he's expected to play tonight... It was 36 years ago tonight that Darryl Sittler recorded the first of his 18 hat tricks as a Leaf.


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