Making a difference

STEVE BUFFERY AND LANCE HORNBY

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn brushed aside suggestions yesterday that he has been a difference-maker with the club this season.

Van Ryn, who returned from a series of trauma-type injuries on Dec. 12, has been arguably the Leafs best all-around defenceman this season. In fact, the club is 8-4-4 with Van Ryn in the lineup, and are 2-0 since he returned from his injuries.

"I don't know if one player makes that big of a difference," Van Ryn said yesterday. "I just came back just as we were starting to play better."

Van Ryn, who missed 13 games because of the injuries, said his conditioning level is only starting to get to where it was at the beginning of the season, even though he has practised with the Leafs for a couple of weeks.

"It's totally different, you can do all the skating you want and practise all you want, but it's the game situations are what's lacking," he said.

No easy games

The Leafs jump from the flame into the fire. After facing arguably the best line in the NHL last night (centre Marc Savard, left wing Milan Lucic and right wing Phil Kessel), they face the NHL's most potent tandem in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby tomorrow in Pittsburgh. Malkin 49 points) and Crosby (44 points) are 1-2 in NHL scoring.

"Yeah, well you had to bring the other two up," said Wilson yesterday, when reminded of that Crosby and Malkin were next up. "Every night's a battle for us. We don't get intimidated by the top people, you just have to be aware of them."

One of a kind

One of the most eventful coaching careers in Leafs history came to an end 20 years ago today when John Brophy was fired. The silver-haired, acid-tongued Nova Scotian ran the team like a marine drill sergeant and offended plenty of coddled young stars on the team, but there was no doubting his passion and loyalty. The inspiration for Paul Newman's Reggie Dunlop character in Slap Shot, he had a record of 64-111-18. After recently giving up minor-league coaching in Richmond, Va., Brophy is preparing for his 76th birthday next month, enjoying retirement in Antigonish, N.S., and preparing for induction into the East Coast Hockey Hall of Fame. The ECHL's coach of the year award bears his name.

Goaltender humour

When asked yesterday if the Bruins purposely set out to play solid at home (Boston was on an 11-game win streak at the TD Banknorth Garden heading into last night) this season, goaltender Tim Thomas replied: "If we did, I've been hit in the head and forgot."


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