Hitchcock: Leafs a playoff team

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:04 PM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ken Hitchcock thinks the Maple Leafs are a playoff-calibre team.

And the Columbus Blue Jackets coach said it with a straight face following his team's morning skate today at the Nationwide Arena.

I look at the big picture -- if they continue to play at the pace they are playing at, they are probably going to get into the playoffs, Hitchcock said while trying to get his team ready for tonights meeting with the Leafs.

Its probably shocking to everybody but they look to me like a team that is starting to figure out the balance between offence and defence," he said. They are dynamic up front. They are quick and they get on you quick.

As a coach who has seen a lot of Leafs' coach Ron Wilson when both were in charge of Western Conference teams, Hitchcock said he is starting to see some familiar signs from a Leafs team that struggled earlier in the season but will be looking for a fifth win in its past six games tonight.

When you turn down the volume, the team looks a lot like San Jose did when (Wilson) was there, checking wise. It seems to be there are more and more minutes that the players are understanding the concept of pressing up, Hitchcock said.

The Jackets have had their own struggles, losing six of their past seven contests. They will try to get things started tonight facing Joey MacDonald, who began the season as the Leafs third-string goaltender.

Vesa Toskala will back up MacDonald tonight. Wilson said Toskala will get the start on Saturday night in Boston.

LOOSE LEAFS: This is the only meeting of the two teams this year. The Leafs previous visit to Columbus was back in 2006...Jackets star Rick Nash has just three points in his past seven contests. The likely Canadian Olympian had 25 points in his first 20 games...Former Leaf Anton Stralman feels for his countryman Jonas Gustavsson. The two played together at last years world championship. Thats really unfortunate, Stralman said of news that the Monster would need a second ablation procedure to control his heart condition. He had such a good start to the season. Now a thing like that is going to stop him when he finally made it to the NHL.


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