Leafs' Lupul pulls Kessel along

The addition of Joffrey Lupul is having a positive effect on Phil Kessel. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

The addition of Joffrey Lupul is having a positive effect on Phil Kessel. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:47 PM ET

TORONTO - How much has the presence of new winger Joffrey Lupul helped Phil Kessel get back on track? Though Kessel had some strong games towards the end of his 14-game scoring slump, which ended with a pair of goals in Boston on Tuesday, Lupul has been a help in getting him going.

“Lupul gets in on the forecheck and he’s a bigger body that we’ve been lacking,” Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said of the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder, who has three assists in his past two games. “We’ve been a relatively small team up front. When you have bigger bodies that can skate, it makes a difference.”

Kessel, meanwhile, has three goals in his past two games and is back on pace for a 30-goal season. With the weight off his shoulders, he might just have his confidence back.

“It’s a big relief,” Kessel said after Wednesday’s game in Buffalo, where he scored his 22nd of the season and narrowly missed another in the third. “We’re fighting our way back. We are right back in it here. We just have to keep going and do what we’re doing.”

CRABB’S GOT LEGS

When he was the first player to be scrummed by the media following the big 2-1 win in Buffalo Wednesday, Joey Crabb took some good-natured ribbing from his teammates.

His game-winning goal — a shorthanded effort on an incredible individual play complete with toe drag — isn’t what you might expect from one of the team’s worker bees. But if the team is going to have some success, it needs contributions from all corners.

“I don’t know, I must have blacked out there for a little bit,” Crabb said modestly of his first NHL goal in almost two years (March 2009). “I was pretty happy to get that off my back and it was a big goal that helped the team out.

“It started out with a move and I kind of just stuck with it then put it away.”

E IS FOR EFFORT

Whether it has been drilled into their heads by the coaching staff or was self-evident after Saturday’s weak effort in Montreal, these young Leafs realize their only chance to make a spirited run to the playoffs is through hard work.

As flat as the loss to the Habs was, the effort with big road wins in Buffalo and Boston — two buildings in which the team has struggled in recent seasons — shows what type of team this has to be.

“As long as we put in an effort, we have a chance to win every night,” Crabb said. “We’ve been checking the standings and we definitely have a shot. When you start playing with confidence, you feel you can pull it off.”

“We aren’t the most talented team in the league,” added defenceman Luke Schenn, “so if we don’t compete, we’re usually going to get run out of the building.”

LOOSE LEAFS

Schenn, by the way, had never won a game in Buffalo prior to Wednesday’s win ... Leafs prospect Greg McKegg had four goals for the OHL’s Erie Otters Wednesday in a win over Owen Sound. Sticking with junior, Jerry D’Amigo, who recently was loaned from the Marlies to the Kitchener Rangers had two goals and an assist on Wednesday.


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