Habs win KOs Leafs from Cup playoffs

ROB LONGLEY

, Last Updated: 2:54 AM ET

Because it was expected, the gloom around the Air Canada Centre will be kept to a minimum today.

But the inevitable is now official: The Maple Leafs were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoff picture last night when the Montreal Canadiens defeated Chicago 4-1.

The victory moved the Habs to 88 points, 13 more than the Leafs, who have just six games left beginning tonight at home to the Philadelphia Flyers.

With a major overhaul of both the roster and management, the Leafs went into the 2008-09 season with the lowest expectations in decades and, in that sense, delivered. As a result, the Original Six franchise will be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in for the fourth consecutive spring.

While it certainly comes as no surprise, the shortcoming marks the lengthiest post-season drought in club history.

The Leafs have no intention of just playing out the string through their remaining contests, however, especially with so many players essentially on audition to determine whether they will continue as part of the reconstruction.

COMPETE EVERY TIME

"You try to compete every time you are on the ice, be excited to be in the game," Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky said following yesterday's practice at the Air Canada Centre. "You can't just sit there and say: 'The season is over and we're not going to make the playoffs.'

"You just have to compete hard. Everyone has something to prove."

There also remains the possibility of wreaking havoc on the opponents, especially over the next three games.

First up is a home-and-home with the Flyers, a team hoping to lock up home-ice advantage for its first playoff series.

On Saturday, the Leafs play host to Montreal, which is clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"It starts with this miniseries against Philly where we can hurt their home-ice chances," Leafs centre Matt Stajan said. "We are going to go in with an edge and try to win every game."


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