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Leafs strong in home-and-home competition

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Matt Akler

TORONTO -- With Tuesday's 1-1 tie against Philadelphia, the Leafs have now completed their seventh and final home-and-home series against some of the best the NHL has to offer.

That type of competition is the closest thing the regular season gets to playoff-style combat so if Toronto's performance in these contests is any indication this just might be the kind of battle-tested squad that GM/Coach Pat Quinn envisioned.

"This was a good test for us. It was important for both teams," said Mats Sundin, who set up Gary Roberts for the tying goal with 2:05 remaining in the third period. "We want to make sure we stay in the race to catch Philadelphia and Boston. This was three big points for our team."

The Leafs finished the heptet of matchups with an 8-1-3-2 record, mighty impressive when you consider that the opponents were the Bruins, Devils, Blackhawks, Rangers, Sabres, Senators and, finally, Flyers. Not a softy in the bunch.
Corey Schwab scrambles for the puck in the Leafs' 1-1 tie with Philly.
Graig Abel Photography

"Hopefully we have the experience in the room now (to do well in the playoffs)," Sundin added. "I feel that the Eastern Conference again is going to be a close race. Obviously we're hoping it's us in there."

Among those 14 games, the only setback in regulation came in Ottawa on January 7 on a very late goal by Karel Rachunek. There were overtime losses in Boston and New Jersey plus victories in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. That tough-minded, workman-like approach should bode well in the postseason.

Contrast Toronto's results in these scenarios with those of the Flyers, who have now finished four of their five home-and-home sets with a paltry 2-2-4-0 mark, including a winless pair versus Columbus.

Continuing to play without their number one goalie, their steadiest defenceman and a top offensive threat, the Leafs worked well against Philadelphia for the second time in three days. There were still a few too many giveaways on this night but nothing too deadly, maybe because the real star of the game was Corey Schwab, who made numerous big stops and was the game's number one star.

"It's nice that they (fans) are behind you but you still have to go out each and every game," said Schwab. "I'm definitely feeling like I'm in a groove now. Part of it is how we're playing, the way we're playing defensively. I feel good and hope I can keep playing this way."

A backup goalie for most of his career, Schwab nevertheless has adopted the perfectionist determination of an elite NHL goalie. Asked if he could have played any better, the goalie replied, "I could have made one more save."

There will still be plenty of opportunity for that.

Notes: Cory Cross re-aggravated his hip injury and missed most of the second half of the game. He will be re-evaluated on Wednesday morning and his status will be determined then. Quinn said it is unlikely that he would be available for Thursday's game in Boston and a callup might be made.

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