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Toronto overcomes odds in regular season -- Part I

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by John McCauley

TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs have played like Centurions during the 2001-02 campaign and their 100-point season is evidence of that.

The century mark didn't get them much, a fourth-place finish one point behind the Boston Bruins for the Eastern Conference and Northeast division titles, but regardless they did it by overcoming the odds.

Unlike what many predicted, the Leafs have been one of the most consistent teams in the NHL. Never losing more than three straight games, Toronto has avoided a prolonged slump unlike last year when they limped into the playoffs before surprising the Ottawa Senators in the first round.

Much of that has to do with the influx of talent and the career years by key players.

Last summer the Leafs added Alexander Mogilny, Travis Green, Robert Reichel and Mikael Renberg. Instant depth is what the Pat Quinn achieved with those acquisitions and it has helped the team work through their late season injury issues.
Mats Sundin has elevated his game to new levels.
Graig Abel Photography

Mogilny gives the opposition another highly-skilled player to worry about and that has created space for Mats Sundin, who finished with 41 goals. Green started slow but has played a lot better in the second half and has been getting the call in all situations. Reichel started sluggish as well but has adjusted after the Olympic break to get over the 20-goal mark. Renberg hasn't delivered the goals, only 14 have come off his stick, but he led the team in assists up until the last game of the season when Sundin passed him.

Bryan McCabe (17) and Darcy Tucker (24) both reached career highs in goals. McCabe has been the Leafs best overall defenceman, his 25-plus minutes of ice per night is proof positive. Tucker is entering the playoffs with 13 points in his last seven games, a pace he won't keep but it does reward him for all-around play earlier in the year. He also leads the team in plus/minus (+24).

Sundin carried the squad with nine-game winning goals and was the teams' leading scorer for the eighth consecutive season. His dominance comes after signing a monster deal, which is rare in today's big contract sports business.

"I think we've grown together pretty good as a team," Tie Domi said. "We had a lot of personnel changes over the summer. We had to feel each other out the first quarter of the season but we're getting where we want to be."

Pat Quinn has tried to make this team in the mold of the New Jersey Devils, who have beat the Leafs in the playoffs the last two years. Rolling four lines and creating line combinations based on balance rather the talent, has caused some players to wonder about ice time but the team is better because of it.

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