Leafs need to make hay against West

Leafs' players Joffrey Lupul, Carl Gunarsson, Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel celebrate Leafs 2nd goal...

Leafs' players Joffrey Lupul, Carl Gunarsson, Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel celebrate Leafs 2nd goal during the season opener NHL hockey game in Toronto, October 6, 2011, between Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. (ALEX UROSEVIC/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:11 PM ET

Taming the wild West has never been more important for the Maple Leafs.

If they’re to end six years as playoff putzes in the East, it will likely have to come with the bonus points against Western Conference teams. And starting Saturday against Calgary, the Leafs have eight such games before Nov. 27, representing half of their inter-conference action this season.

Beating the other conference is one way to make up ground in the anticipated Eastern log jam, where a close finish in April is forecast.

“Crossing over conferences, we have to get those points,” winger Mike Brown said on Friday at the MasterCard Centre. “It’s not a divisional game, but it’s still two points.”

The Leafs have added eight former Western players/draft picks the past few years in multi-player deals with Calgary, Anaheim and Nashville. And for what it’s worth, 16 Leafs have personal roots in cities at least one time zone west of Toronto.

Last year, the Leafs’ record against the West was 9-8-1 after three years of sub-par results. Toronto should set a goal of getting that mark above .500.

“I don’t know what the records have been, but (East-West) is just a hockey game,” winger Joffrey Lupul countered. “But it is nice getting to see those teams you don’t usually compete against, and it’s nice to win those.”

Last season, Toronto’s second-half turnaround was partially attributed to a couple of 2-1 records in extended Western trips. Their big Canadian prairie trip is in February, though it doesn’t include the transplanted Winnipeg Jets for now.

“For an East coast team, you just have to be prepared for that travel,” Lupul said. “Here, you get used to these short little trips and getting home in your own bed after games. In the West, you seem to be out (East) for six, seven or eight games and two or three-hour flights instead of one or two.”

BEST WESTERN

Maple Leafs’ improving record against the West:

2007-08  3  7   0

2008-09  5  7   5

2009-10  5 12   1

2010-11  9  8   1

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca

 

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