Leafs need to steal a point

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Paul Maurice figures there are two types of foe his Maple Leafs will encounter in their final 13 games: Teams they must "stay above water" against and those they have to beat outright.

Put the well-oiled New Jersey Devils into the first category tonight at the Air Canada Centre and the Philadelphia Flyers in the latter. If the Leafs can get at least a point off the Devils and do well in a critical home-and-home next week against the Flyers, then people truly can get excited about qualifying for the playoffs.

"There are five or six teams on the outside who still think they can make it," coach Maurice said yesterday of the nine points separating eight teams above and below the playoff water line. "For us, it takes confidence to stay in your game, to get comfortable in your own style."

Jersey will test the Leafs' patience again, after winning here 4-1 on Tuesday.

"We have to set a tone (tonight) for going into next week," defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "You talk to people and they say we were outplayed by New Jersey, but we had 42 shots and ran into a hot goalie (Martin Brodeur)."

STRUCTURED

Maurice was convinced the Leafs actually played a more structured game in losing to the Devils than they did in Thursday's 8-2 romp in Boston. Down 2-1 against the Devils, the Leafs came close to tying before Jersey power plays and their own impatience caught up to them.

"The Devils don't take a lot of penalties (259 times short-handed was lowest in the East before last night), so it's important we don't, either."

That the Leafs are still in the Eastern Conference race is amazing enough, but gaining seven points in their past five games despite being scored upon first in each outing and trailing 2-0 on three of those occasions, is remarkable.

"When we have been down 1-0 or 2-0, we know there is still lots of hockey on the clock," Maurice said. "We're also holding on to leads into the third period."

Toronto's past 10 games have yielded a 7-2-1 record, but the five teams currently out of the playoff mix have almost all moved in lock-step. The Buffalo Sabres, however, have hit a bit of a wall, and still have to meet the Leafs three more times, twice after March 21 when Toronto wraps up the schedule with eight games against Northeast Division rivals.

"After our games, we'll take a look at the standings," winger Alex Steen said. "(If there is no change), the sun still comes up every morning. There will be a lot of tight games, but it's up to us to battle through them."


Videos

Photos