PHOENIX — The last time the Maple Leafs won four straight, the express bus to the playoffs took a wrong turn off the cliff.
They seem to be back on the right road and though a long way behind the pack, they are at least moving forward again.
And they did it with many of the players whom general manager Brian Burke felt were letting down him and coach Ron Wilson.
“Give the players credit,” Burke said Wednesday. “It’s a different look, a different feel and we’re getting different results.
“Part of it is goaltending and part of it is special teams. The attitude of the team is positive. Picking up these points on the road is crucial, obviously. We’re out of the cellar in the division (passing Ottawa on Tuesday) and breathing down the neck of the next team above us (Buffalo).”
The spark was provided a few games ago, not by the trades or coaching change that many were urging, but by a trio of AHL Marlie call-ups; goaltender James Reimer, centre Darryl Boyce and winger Joey Crabb. They’ve re-energized teammates such as Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg, who had been suffering much of the season.
“Joey has provided that element we’ve been trying to find for (Kessel and Bozak),” Burke said. “Go in, knock down bodies and make the puck available. He had a slow start, but he’s making things happen with his ice time. Darryl has been a factor offensively, which we weren’t counting on, but he has been physical and he’s winning his faceoffs.”
Burke knew the Leafs had turned the corner when the tone of phone calls he took from other GMs suddenly changed after New Year’s Day.
“When you’re struggling, you’re very popular and the offers you get are mostly garbage. When you’re playing well, you’re not as popular and the offers you get are a little better. It definitely makes a difference, the kind of cycle you get in.”
That said, Burke said his phone bill for the past few weeks “could feed a small country”, but nothing will likely shake down until the GMs and governors congregate at the all-star game in Raleigh on Jan. 30 and the actual trade deadline approaches Feb. 28.
“It’s hard to trade in the cap system,” Burke reminded. “But it takes some pressure off of me when the team is winning.”