|Leafs defenceman Ian White tangles with Rangers forward Markus Naslund during first period action on Wednesday. (Sun Media/Mark O'Neill)
Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson yesterday reiterated his general manager's position that nobody, with possibly one exception, is untouchable heading into next week's NHL trade deadline.
The no-nonsense coach added, though, that he will not tolerate moping or loafing by players worried about being shipped out of town.
"I think all the cards have been laid on the table," Wilson said. "The guys know that, with maybe with the exception of Luke Schenn, anybody could be had for the right asking price."
Whether last night's dreadfully slow start in an eventual 2-1 shootout victory over the New York Rangers was the result of some player anxiety is unknown. The Leafs, however, trudged along the Air Canada Centre ice like they were playing in sand. They were out-shot by the struggling Rangers squad 24-12 after two periods and trailed 1-0. Only some great saves by starter Vesa Toskala kept the home side in it. But Toronto came alive from the start of the third period.
In overtime, New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stopped Nikolai Kulemin on a breakaway and then with Ryan Callahan in the box for goaltender interference, the Leafs had a glorious chance to win it, but couldn't beat the New York goaler.
KULEMIN WINS IT
Kulemin won it in the shootout when he beat Lundqvist to his stick side. Toskala made three straight saves to preserve the win.
"You guys ask that same question after every win," Toskala said, when asked if he is playing his best hockey of the season. "I've been feeling good all season long, so nothing's really changed."
Niklas Hagman, who scored in overtime to lift the Leafs to a 3-2 win over the Rangers on Sunday, scored a nifty goal at 10:21 of the third to tie the game 1-1. Hagman skated from behind the net to Lundqvist's left side and beat the Rangers goalie high to the glove side.
Defenceman Wade Redden scored for New York at 10:26 of the second.
One reason for Toronto's slow start could have been the fact that it had been taken out of their routine the last couple of days, practising outdoors at High Park on Tuesday and then going through its morning skate yesterday in front of a huge crowd of screaming kids.
"We didn't have a good practice (on Tuesday) and I think our guys thought they were the Jonas Brothers (yesterday) morning with all the little girls screaming," Wilson said. "That was two days of a lot of noise and no substance. We just couldn't find anything rhythm. Unfortunately we were playing a little bit of a nervous team."
Whether the Leafs win or lose at this point of the season is not as important, in terms of the big picture, as what GM Brian Burke might be able to pull off prior to the March 4 trade deadline. The Leafs are still in the playoff hunt, but only mathematically. Burke is looking to secure draft picks and/or prospects as he attempts to rebuild the club. Wilson warned Leafs fans not to get too excited if a certain Leaf gets red-hot or goes into a prolonged slump in the days leading up to the trade deadline. Nobody, he said, is going to play their way out of Toronto or suddenly become untouchable.
"The players know there's nothing they can do to control it right now," Wilson said. "If we make a decision based on (last night's) game and (tonight's) game (at the New York Islanders) and (Saturday's) game (in Ottawa), then we'd be fools. Brian and (Sr. VP of hockey operations) Dave Nonis have some ideas of the direction they want to go, and if they can accomplish it, they will. If not, they'll wait."
Fourth-line centre John Mitchell and defenceman Jeff Finger was forced to leave the game with upper body injuries. The Leafs will call up forward Tim Stapleton for the first time this season, and defenceman Anton Stralman from the Marlies and both will likely play at the New York Islanders tonight. Stapleton is the Marlies' leading scorer with 16 goals and 38 assists.
Toronto defenceman Ian White and New York forward Markus Naslund dropped the gloves and fought in front of the Leafs net, right after goaltender Vesa Toskala stoned Naslund in the first period. It was Naslund's second NHL fighting major and first since 1993.
The Leafs managed only three shots on Henrik Lundqvist in the first, although Jason Blake beat the goaler between the legs on a backhand, but the puck rolled along the goal line.
Just when you think the MLSE could get any lamer, they've started running a 'Hug Cam' instead of the much more amusing, and less politically correct, 'Kiss Cam' on the video scoreboard.
The Leafs made Tom Renney lose his job by beating the Rangers on Sunday in Manhattan, and then spoiled John Tortorella's debut.