Leafs coach rides out storm

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:33 PM ET

TORONTO - Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke never broached coach Ron Wilson’s job status for 2011-12, so when the Leafs ended February in the playoff race it became obvious his old friend intends to use the late rally to justify retaining him for another season. Burke must be accountable for some of the moves that didn’t work out early in the season, though Wilson’s Leafs did seem very unprepared to start many games and had special teams woes.

For his part, Wilson shrugged off the waves of criticism he took in November and December.

“It’s part of the game,” he said. “I’ve coached the sixth-most games of anyone (1,320) and sometimes you’re made to feel you haven’t coached a game in your life. You just try and block it out, the good and the bad.

“We’ve had some adversity, but we have some poise now.”

CAPTAIN KEEPS AFLOAT

Another Leaf getting some positive press after a trying season is captain Dion Phaneuf.

“I don’t think I’ve changed (his approach),” Phaneuf said. “I do feel better on the ice the way I’m moving. My knee injury was the first one I’ve had and you lose a step coming back at a time when other guys are in mid-season shape. But I feel back to the way I was at the start of this season.”

Phaneuf is adding some scoring points, noticeably absent in his early games.

“I wasn’t worried about my confidence,” he insisted. “I was getting shots through. Sometimes they go in, sometimes not. The biggest thing is that we are winning games now and it doesn’t matter who is scoring.”

CHICAGO HOPE

Two interesting angles on Saturday’s rare visit by the Blackhawks:

While not winning the Cup since 1967, Toronto has been tough on most defending champions. The Leafs have a record of 9-4-1 in their first meeting against the previous season’s champs going back to the late 1990s.

And coupled with Thursday’s game in Philadelphia, the Chicago match marks the first time since the 1998-99 season that Toronto has played the most recent champion and finalist in consecutive games. On Dec. 31, 1998, the Leafs beat the title-holding Red Wings in Detroit, then two days later were beaten at home by Wilson’s Washington Capitals, who had been swept by the Wings the previous spring.

BROWN’S TOWN

While Viktor Stalberg of the Blackhawks will be fired up to play his former team and former “Frat Pack” centre Tyler Bozak, this is also a big game for winger Mike Brown.

The winger was born in Chicago and his father operates a Harley Davidson dealership in the suburbs.

“My Dad still has season’s tickets, so I grew up going to all their games,” Brown said. “I knew most of the old-time players.”

As a kid, was he bellowing at the top of his lungs during The Star-Spangled Banner at the noisy Stadium?

“I didn’t get too crazy,” he said with a laugh. “Obviously the first time I played against them (with Vancouver) was pretty intense. We don’t get to play there this year, but it’s going to be the same feeling in this building.”


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