February 11, 2011
Leafs focus on those Killer B's
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
If the Maple Leafs can’t get out of their own Northeast neighbourhood without getting bullied, what’s the sense of talking brave about playoffs?
With four consecutive division games, starting Saturday in Montreal, it’s put-up or shut-up time, especially when the Leafs get to places such as Boston (on Tuesday) and Buffalo (on Wednesday) where they tend to disappear when it means the most. The Leafs have managed to stay close in season series with Montreal and Ottawa, but it’s poor results in the other two cities that have burdened them with a losing divisional record every year since the lockout, hence no playoffs since 2004. Toronto entered the weekend seven points out of eighth place with four teams to catch.
“Our destiny is in our hands,” defenceman Mike Komisarek said Friday at the MasterCard Centre. “These are teams we are trying to catch, with the exception of Ottawa (10 points behind) and we get a win or two and we’re that much closer. We’re closing the gap, but still have a lot of ground to cover.”
Toronto has nine of a possible 12 points coming out of the National Hockey League all-star break. But it will need more of the same in its final 27 games and a lot of help from other teams who are at the top and bottom of the Eastern pack.
The Leafs will have to avoid three-point results in conference games, especially the next week and beyond that, the seven Northeast games that are still on the schedule from Feb. 24 forward.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the first game of the season or mid-season, these division games are always four-point games,” said defenceman Tomas Kaberle, whose arrival in the league in 1998 coincided with Toronto’s switch to the Northeast.
“You beat these teams, it makes a difference making the playoffs. We have lots of games left, but we have to win them now.
“Boston has played well all year and everyone knows we’ve had a rough time in Buffalo (25-56-8 all-time). It would be nice to get the win there. We don’t want a two- or three-game losing streak that will put us back where we were before.”
Kaberle has had some memorable nights in Montreal, with 26 points in 29 games and an incredible plus-22 in 62 games overall. And the Leafs have at least one other factor in their favour. Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere can’t wait to play again in his hometown, where he is 3-1-1. A groin injury prevented him from a scheduled start on Nov. 20.
“I was a big Quebec Nordiques fans, didn’t like the Habs and I still don’t,” Giguere said. “I always liked the underdog for some reason, so I watched all Quebec games. Joe Sakic was my favourite player growing up.
“It’s always fun to play in your hometown, but I don’t think a game gets any bigger than Leafs-Habs on a Saturday night. There are a lot of kids who come to Toronto to play in front of friends and family. It will be the same for me. We all know that (Bell Centre) rink has a ton of atmosphere. The city will be buzzing with lots of Leafs fans.
“Montreal, they’re a good team and we want to measure ourselves against a team like that.”
Colby Armstrong will be out of the lineup for the Leafs with a vision problem, but this will be Joffrey Lupul’s first real exposure to the rivalry.
“I’m sure it’s a little more heated than Ducks-Kings or Ducks-Sharks,” the former Anaheim forward joked. “There’s just a little more history to it.”
But the Leafs will be history if they can’t use the next few games as a springboard. Only then would playoff chatter mean something.