March 7, 2011
Leafs dealing with high stakes games
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
You can't roll a seven with one die, but a 6-and-1 or 5-and-2 combo would keep the Maple Leafs from dying at the high stakes playoff table.
Any won-loss record less than that in this coming septet of Eastern Conference games -- starting Tuesday in Long Island -- and the Leafs will likely be out of luck and reduced to casual observer status in April.
They can't expect a lifeline from teams such as the 14th-place Islanders, nor are they getting any assistance from other NHL clubs. Since the Leafs lost 5-3 to Chicago on Saturday night, ending a nine-game points' streak, just about everybody ahead and behind them won big or benefitted from a three-point game.
"It's always that way down the stretch, it seems there are teams who never lose," captain Dion Phaneuf said Monday at the MasterCard Centre. "But two weeks ago, we said we can only control things we can control and not worry about what everyone else is doing."
Rather than be discouraged, the Leafs went on a roll of 6-0-3. Heading to the Island, the gap is back to five points between 10th-place Toronto and a new eighth-place target, the Buffalo Sabres, with Carolina jammed in between. Just as worrisome for coach Ron Wilson is all the noise behind the Leafs, four teams that are seven or less points back. Toronto's conference menu includes the Sabres and Hurricanes in the next week or so.
Wilson pulled himself away from the out-of-town games on TV on Sunday -- for his own sanity.
"I didn't watch those other games because we didn't play. If I want, I can scoreboard watch with my I-Pad while I'm doing other things, but if you look, you get your hopes up, then they get dashed and you get frustrated.
"Some days you get it down to three points and you think you might get it to one. Then you lose and another team wins. So there's no point."
Facing the Islanders at decrepit Nassau Coliseum again will be night and day from the excitement surrounding Saturday's rare visit by the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. But neither should the Leafs be as out-classed at the start, when they were too careless with the puck and Chicago roared to a 5-1 lead. Two of the 10 wins the Leafs have rung up since Feb. 1 were against the Isles.
"Look at their record since the all-star break, it's as good as ours," cautioned Wilson. "We'll have to be on our toes. They're loosey, goosey and the games don't have the same meaning at the moment to them as to us. The pressure's on us, but we've handled it well so far. They'll be physical, they're a fast skating team and they have an awful lot of skill up front that they don't get credit for."
But with such a small margin of error, if the Leafs are favourites on paper, they must prove it on the ice.
"We had done really well our past 10, but you can't lose two in a row in this race we are in," centre Tyler Bozak said.
"We fought back hard at the end of that (Chicago) game and if we'd played that way the whole game, it would have been a different story."