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Leafs Take On Blue Shirts In Big Apple

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (11-6-5-2) at New York Rangers (9-7-5-2).

TIME: Sunday, 7 p.m. EST. Glen Sather has been pushing different buttons of late, and the New York Rangers have been responding.

The Rangers look to extend their unbeaten streak to five games as they take on the surging Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden.

New York, which won just two of its first seven games, is unbeaten in its last four (3-0-1), including a 4-1 victory at Pittsburgh on Friday.

The turnaround started after Sather, the Rangers' coach and general manager, placed Martin Rucinsky on a line with Alexei Kovalev and Bobby Holik.

Rucinsky has three goals and eight points during the unbeaten streak, including a four-point game against Ottawa on Nov. 23, and 13 points in his last eight games. Kovalev has nine points during his six-game point streak. Holik, who assisted on both of Rucinsky's goals Friday, recorded his 600th career NHL point in the win.

Backup goalie Jussi Markkanen, who has received the bulk of the playing time lately while starter Mike Dunham works his way back from a groin injury, has three wins during the unbeaten streak, allowing three goals. He made 20 saves on Friday.

"We've been playing a lot more consistent hockey than we were at the beginning of the year," Sather said. "The guys have an understanding of the way we're supposed to play, and they have a lot of enthusiasm."

Holik agrees.

"It just comes down to all of us having pride and wanting to help the team," Holik said. "We're all making adjustments, but not so much that you change your game."

The Maple Leafs have won four in a row, including a 2-1 victory at Ottawa on Saturday.

Bryan McCabe scored during a two-man advantage in the second period, rookie Matt Stajan also scored and Ed Belfour made 24 saves for the Leafs, who have allowed just six goals during their win streak.

Belfour has allowed just one goal in each of his last three games.

STANDINGS: Maple Leafs - 29 points, 1st place (tied), Northeast Division. Rangers - 25 points, 3rd place, 11 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Gary Roberts, 8 goals; Mats Sundin, 13 assists and 20 points; Owen Nolan, 60 PIM. Rangers - Mark Messier, 10 goals; Kovalev, 16 assists and 19 points; Chris Simon, 84 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Nov. 28): Maple Leafs - Power play: 14.9 percent (18 for 121), 20th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.6 percent (100 for 121), 21st (tied). Rangers - Power play: 13.6 percent (11 for 81), 23rd. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (98 for 117), 14th.

GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Belfour (9-8-3, 1 SO, 2.49 GAA); Mikael Tellqvist (2-0-2, 2.51). Rangers - Dunham (5-6-4, 1, 2.33); Markkanen (4-2-1, 2, 2.16).

2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Rangers, 3-1.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 13; Rangers, 5-1. At New York, Petr Nedved had a hat trick, and Eric Lindros added a goal and an assist for New York, which outshot Toronto 35-24. Alyn McCauley had the lone goal for the Maple Leafs.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Maple Leafs - 7-4-4-1 on the road; Rangers - 6-2-2-2 at home.
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