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Leafs battle old friends

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by John McCauley

TORONTO -- After things got heated near the end of the Toronto Maple Leafs visit to Madison Square Garden on Thursday, most expected the New York Rangers to be fired up Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.

But the emotion the Rangers displayed at home in defeat was nonexistent in the first two periods as the Maple Leafs held on for a 4-3 victory, the home-and-home sweep and first place in the Eastern Conference.

The Rangers effort overshadowed the Toronto returns of Eric Lindros --who sat out last year with concussion and Bobby Clarke problems-- and Bryan Berard, who signed with New York after beating a devastating eye injury. Both were looking forward to playing in Toronto again.
Mats Sundin matched up well against Eric Lindros in the series.

The trials and tribulations of Lindros have had more to do with Toronto than most would have liked. After publicly declaring his desire to resume his career in Toronto, general manager and coach Pat Quinn went about trying to acquire the superstar. Months of talks couldn't satisfy the Philadelphia Flyers and Lindros eventually ended up in New York.

"I think he would have done really well playing for the Leafs but that's the business part of the game and we don't have any control of that." Mats Sundin said. "It's good that he's back in the game and it's good for hockey fans."

Whether the Leafs would be a better team today with Lindros is debatable. Toronto likely wouldn't have signed Alex Mogilny or made as many offseason deals if Lindros had been acquired. Add in the fact the Maple Leafs probably would have given up Tomas Kaberle to complete the deal and it appears Toronto is better off.

Fortunately for the Leafs, Lindros wasn't much of a factor against them even though he scored the opening marker of the night by neatly batting the puck out of the air. He was buzzing at times but Mats Sundin's line was able to match him most of the night.

"When you are up against that caliber of players, Fleury, Lindros, that's a great challenge for us," Sundin said. "We should be proud of what we accomplished for sure."

Berard's play couldn't be described as spectacular either, but he got a warm cheer from the fans, which acknowledged the struggles he's faced in his successful comeback. Largely the poor defence of his team marred his performance on the whole. Numerous giveaways led to scoring chances for Toronto, especially in the second period.

Berard played 20-plus minutes and registered a point but Sundin thought his old buddy was still trying to find his game.

"You can tell that he is trying to find a way to play out there with the situation he is in," Sundin said referring to the corrective contact lens Berard wears in his damaged eye. "I think he is going to get better as the season goes on for sure."

Despite the rust, Glen Sather is happy with Berard's progress at least that's what the Rangers GM told Quinn.

"I talked to Glen this morning and he said 'Bryan's been terrific and the progress he's made has been quite amazing and he's still getting better'. We're all happy for that, he's a terrific kid."

It's clear both Lindros and Berard have made impacts on the Rangers and Maple Leafs in the past, and both will continue to do so in the future.

NOTES: Mark Messier was scratched from the Rangers lineup suffering from back spasms. ... Tie Domi is three minutes shy of Dave (Tiger) Williams as the Maple Leafs' all-time penalty king. ... Sundin passed Doug Gilmour for seventh on the all-time Maple Leafs assist list.
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