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Leafs Look Ahead To Panthers

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Bryan McCabe, fresh off an agonizing own-goal in a 5-4 overtime loss in Buffalo, is being compared to former Leafs defenceman Larry Murphy.

Murphy, you might recall, was booed out of town by Leafs fans in 1997 but recovered nicely enough to win two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.

If that is the comparison, McCabe says bring it on.

“I’ve heard the comparisons to Larry Murphy,” he said. “I should only be so fortunate, four Stanley Cups (two with Detroit and two with Pittsburgh) and a place in the Hall of Fame.”

Yes, denizens of the centre of the hockey universe seemed to have erred more than a bit on Larry Murphy but of course it wasn’t that simple.

Murphy was one of the highest paid members of an underachieving Leafs team. You can’t boo the whole team. Likewise, whatever ails this slow-starting Leaf teams probably doesn’t begin or end at Bryan McCabe’s doorstep.

Like McCabe, Murphy dealt in offence on a team that couldn’t keep the puck out of its net. Like McCabe, Murphy’s contract was one of the most generous on the payroll. Like McCabe, Murphy wanted to be on the ice with the game on the line.

What we are talking about here is symbolism. The trip over his net in the one-sided loss to Carolina,  the redirect against Buffalo, the shots on the power play that ricochet off the pads of penalty killers for easy breakaways, piled onto some truly iffy moments late last season.

Leafs coach Paul Maurice admits McCabe has made some high profile missteps but says he is playing better defensively than he did last year.

He said McCabe has identified the weaknesses in his game and cheerily noted that things can’t get much worse than the own goal in Buffalo.

“I think Bryan has handled it very well,” he said.

I don’t know where you come down on the booing of Bryan McCabe, which may or may not become a lasting storyline. No one disagrees, however, that improved play by McCabe, a player who was generating Norris Trophy whispers just a couple of seasons ago, would make the whole question go away.

For his part, McCabe endured the question at practice today. He said he wanted to remain a Leaf, “I’m hopeful of another seven or eight years here,” he said. “I still love it, it’s great.”

As for the gaffes, well they are part of the game.

“There’s still 75 games left to play. I watched the highlights last night and a couple of people put the puck in off their skates. One team loses and one team wins. Every night someone makes a mistake.”

McCabe needed to only look across the dressing room where a large pack of media gathered around Nik Antropov for his verbal offerings.

When GM John Ferguson re-signed the lanky Kazak this season, fans complained he was slow, easily hurt and unmotivated.

But Antropov has probably been the Leafs best forward this season.

He has scored five times and sits second in points behind Mats Sundin. His plus-9 leads the club.

“At the end of the day, everyone we’ve put with Nik has played well,” said Maurice.

The Leafs meanwhile, face the prospect of working familiar faces back in the lineup. Carlo Colaiacovo, recovering from a knee injury, says he expects to play Saturday against Chicago. He will miss Thursday’s contest against Florida.

“I want to wait for Saturday and get a few good skates under me,” he said.

Kyle Wellwood, out with minor surgery for a sports hernia, is day to day. Maurice’s hunch is that Wellwood, who would play fewer minutes than Colaiacovo, is closer to going back into the lineup.
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