Kubina to the rescue

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Here it was, the Maple Leafs season on the line -- again -- and Mats Sundin was nowhere to be found.

It was midway through the first period and Toronto's captain had just disappeared into the dressing room, the team's playoff hopes vanishing with him in the eyes of many back in Toronto.

As coach Paul Maurice stared down the Toronto bench, there surely must have been an empty feeling in his gut. Gone with a groin strain was Sundin, the team's security blanket who had entered the huge tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers last night on a nine-game scoring streak, racking up 18 points over that span.

If ever a situation cried out for a hero, this was it.

Cue Pavel Kubina. Again.

Just 24 hours after scoring in overtime against the Flyers, the oft-criticized defenceman chalked up yet another decisive goal, beating Martin Biron at 1:09 of the third period to give the Sundinless Leafs a 3-2 victory.

The decision, coupled with Toronto's dramatic come-from-behind 4-3 win on Tuesday, allowed the Leafs to emerge from their home-and-home series with four points as compared to the Flyers' one.

With 10 games remaining, the Leafs, Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers all have 74 points, five behind the eighth-place Flyers. The Buffalo Sabres are ninth with 75.

Let's face it: These never-say-die Leafs are becoming hockey's version of the dismembered knight from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

For those unfamiliar with that flick, one unforgettable scene features the knight in question having his legs and arms lopped off by a sword-wielding enemy. Yet he still refuses to succumb, suggesting to his foe that his injuries are "just a flesh wound."

Like that memorable character, these Leafs just refuse to die. Not even the absence of Sundin could keep them down on this night.

"We're hopeful Mats will be back Saturday," Maurice said afterward. "Right now let's just call him day to day."

As the Leafs celebrated the win inside their dressing room, Sundin sat alone on the team bus collecting his thoughts. He did convey a message to reporters that he would speak publicly today about the injury, which Maurice does not consider serious.

Should Sundin be sidelined for an extended period, Toronto's uphill climb toward a post-season berth becomes that much steeper.

Improbable? Yes. Impossible? No. Not after the Leafs came into arguably the rowdiest barn in the league and were the better team, even without their captain.

"This has been a season like no other," centre Matt Stajan said. "We've been written off since January. But we all believe in ourselves in the room. All that other stuff on the outside doesn't matter.

"Obviously Mats is our best player and team leader. He has been that way for the last 10 years, at least. It's tougher if we don't have him, but our only concern has to be winning."

As for Kubina, redemption never tasted sweeter.

His two-year tenure in Toronto has been anything but smooth. Often slagged for being overpaid -- his $5 million US per season salary is excessive, especially in this salary cap era -- Kubina found himself in the middle of controversy at the trade deadline when interim general manager Cliff Fletcher thought a trade with San Jose might be in the works only to discover Kubina would not waive his no-trade clause.

But he is certainly starting to silence the critics.

"We struggled a bit without Mats but we still found a way to win," Kubina said.

Question is: Can they keep it up, especially if Sundin can't go? They obviously feel they can, even if no one else does.


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