Leafs' home fires burning

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

TORONTO - The doors to the Toronto dressing room slid open on Wednesday and two full-geared firemen walked out.

Yes folks, the Maple Leafs are that hot at home. The visiting smoke-eaters had a much more hospitable reception than some NHL teams this month, in which Toronto has won all four games, the best January start since 1962, heralding a reign of three straight Stanley Cups. Members of that team are being feted here next month by coincidence, but before the populace gets too giddy with such karma, remember that the Leafs have had one winning January the past six years, all leading to a dark spring at the ACC.

So taking the first four and five overall going back to Dec. 22 to mark a two-year high at home is like gold in the playoff bank. After a reciprocal visit to Buffalo on Friday, the Leafs are back here for five more.

Its a key month, compared to December, when our record was back and forth, up and down the coast, winger Joffrey Lupul said. Now, to have a month at home, in your own bed, doing your own thing, practising at home and playing in front of your fans, thats big. I dont know if you want to put a percentage on it, but you want to win 75% of these games. Were off to a good start. Its important that weve learned our lesson.

The difficulties the Leafs have had trying to perfect home cooking have been dissected time and again through the years. The usual excuses are that crowds get either too quiet or too spiteful, that other teams have fired up locals on the roster who want to dazzle on national TV, or the Leafs try too hard to put on a show.

On this recent stretch, Detroit represented the only current playoff team the Leafs have beaten, but the hosts have not been on cruise control.

Goalie Jonas Gustavsson has been a busy man with a couple of shutouts and brought the Leafs out of the bottom five NHL teams in goals-against. The opposition has been outscored 17-6, while the Leafs reset their 30th-place penalty-killing with a 5-for-5 night against the Lightning. They outshone the disciplined Red Wings in the good conduct department and have been short-handed just once in two games.

Gustavsson, being rewarded after hearing from many corners that he was finished with the Leafs, might be enjoying this the most.

You have to find a way, whether its home or away, said Gustavsson, who might even play both ends of the coming weekend series and face the conference-leading Rangers on Saturday.

When you feel confident, it doesnt matter what you do. The puck will hit you. Its a weird feeling, but its something you have to work hard in practice to get to. You have to keep saying (positive things) to yourself in bad times.

Ive been 100% healthy all year and that allows me to keep building on this and get better every day.

Before a light night on the schedule Wednesday, the Leafs were sixth in the Eastern Conference.

We talked right after that tough (0-3) road trip following Christmas, defenceman Luke Schenn said of a players-only meeting Jan. 2. We knew we had nine of 10 at home and we talked about how to bear down. Its obviously tight in the standings right now and huge to pick up points.

Schenn, in his fourth year here, is ready to start experiencing some of that playoff buzz around town hes heard so much about.

Its no fun playing at home when youre losing. Things can be pretty miserable here, especially with this many home games. Right now, the ACC is rocking and fans are 100% behind us. Its a great feeling.


Videos

Photos