Blake turns it around

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Each morning begins with a reminder of the worst year of Jason Blake's life.

The daily pill the Maple Leafs forward takes to control the rare form of leukemia he was diagnosed with more than 16 months ago is part of the routine as his body battles the disease.

As a related benefit, Blake's mind is more at ease as well, a big reason behind the recent scoring spurt which has him tied for the team lead in points

"Everything is stable, everything is going in the right direction," Blake said after yesterday's practice at the Air Canada Centre in advance of tonight's game against the Florida Panthers.

"I feel fortunate and blessed every day after the news that I had."

That peace of mind and the nice rapport he has with linemate Dominic Moore is making for a player in stark contrast to the sometimes brooding, unproductive Blake of a year ago.

With 17 goals in 46 games, Blake is on pace for 30, which would be the second best total in his career behind the 40 he scored for the New York Islanders in 2006-07. His game-winner in Saturday's 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins was Blake's seventh in seven games as he has easily surpassed his total in that miserable 2007-08 campaign.

Blake is forthright in admitting that last season, his first with the Leafs, was a disaster and he's comfortable taking the blame after his ordeal.

"It had nothing to do with anyone but myself," said Blake, who had just 15 goals after earning big free-agent money. "It wasn't the coaches. It wasn't the players. It was me, Jason Blake. Last year wasn't a fun year off the ice."

It started with the awful diagnosis but got worse as Blake had trouble adapting to his medication. The side effects were losses of weight, strength and motivation.

But in the off-season, the Minnesota native committed himself to returning to form mentally.

"I had 41/2 months to figure it out after the last game to the first day of training camp," Blake said. "I (asked myself) if that's what I wanted to continue to do, I better do it at 100%."

The next step was to adapt to new coach Ron Wilson, who wasn't going to let Blake get away with soft play on the perimeter.

"I constantly got on his rear end about going to the net," said Wilson, who benched him a couple of nights to emphasize the point.

Easier said than done and many nights Blake has had the welts to prove it.

"It's not fun," said Blake, who leads the team in shots on net with 161. "You're going to get hacked, whacked, cross-checked and punched.

"But it's one thing I probably got away from last year. You can't look for the easy goal. It's tough to score goals in this league unless you are a superstar."

The other big development has been the on-ice relationship with Moore. The pair has been together for the better part of a couple of months now and in its past four games has combined for a healthy 16 points.

"At the beginning of the year, he maybe wasn't quite as confident, but you couldn't question his work ethic," Moore said. "Confidence for any player is huge."


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