Not dead yet.
The Toronto Maple Leafs
rallied from a 3-0 third-period deficit to beat the Flyers 4-3 in overtime Tuesday night to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Defenseman Pavel Kubina
scored in the third period and then got the game-winner in the last minute of overtime, sending his team and its fans home with a glimmer of hope that this tumultuous season in Toronto may not be done quite yet. In fact, there may be the barest glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
With a regulation win in the rematch of this home-and-home in Philadelphia Wednesday night, Toronto would be only five points out of the playoffs.
"We're still in a very tough spot, but we just keep kicking along," defenseman Bryan McCabe
said. "We still have a chance and we believe in each other here. We're not going to pack it in at all, even if we do reach that point where we're eliminated. We've been playing good hockey lately and we have a strong bunch in here."
As McCabe pointed out, the Leafs don't plan on mailing it in anytime soon. Even if the team is eliminated from postseason contention, its performance in the last few weeks -- and the desire of players with no-trade clauses to remain in Toronto -- has suddenly drawn the dressing room closer and created an urgency to show that this team can succeed in the future.
McCabe was one of the players that had a no-trade clause and elected to remain a Leaf. Rumors persist there was a possible deal for him to be moved to the Islanders, but McCabe still insists he never entertained any of the proposed offers Cliff Fletcher, the interim GM, brought to him.
"I signed here to play here for the terms of that contract and that's what I plan on doing," McCabe said. "I want to be part of then solution here and get this team back to where we believe it can be -- hopefully and eventually a champion."
Part of the turnaround can be traced back to Jan. 11, a day that saw the Maple Leafs claim Dom Moore on waivers. Toronto was coming off a horrendous road trip at that time and rumors were swirling that either GM John Ferguson Jr. or coach Paul Maurice
would be fired.
Ferguson was relieved of his duties 11 days later. But in the midst of the constant negativity trade speculation, Moore was acquired and the Leafs have gone 15-10-2 since.
"Well certainly there was a lot of speculation going around, with those guys like Mats (Sundin) and the extra spotlight was put on those players that had the no-trade clauses," Moore said. "But the guys did a great job of not letting it distract them and the team, as a whole, handled it well.
"It helped a lot in the locker room to know they wanted to stay. We sort of galvanized the whole thing and came together and we've been playing better for a while now, so we knew we were still in it."
But with every win like Tuesday's dramatic victory over the Flyers, or the 8-2 drubbing laid on the Bruins last week, the Leafs know they can' t get too high. On the flipside, Saturday's frustrating 2-1 loss to New Jersey can't bring them down too low.
"You know with the way the games are now and everyone being so clumped together, the games will be tight and are going to be up and down, so you can't let it get to you," Moore said.
Moore has been extremely impressed with Maurice and the coaching staff.
"To be honest, I've been really impressed with the way they maintain an even keel," he said. "There's so much pressure in this city to succeed and they still take that day-by-day approach and it rubs off on the players."
Moore also pointed to the influence that captain Mats Sundin
has on the club. Sundin now has 16 points in his last nine games and, needless to say, his teammates are happy he stuck around.
"He's a consummate professional that works his hardest to be at his best and it shows," Moore said. "He's a leader. At that the end of the day he made the decision he felt was right for him and the team and he earned that, so you have to respect that and we're happy he did."
Now, the roller-coaster season continues for the Leafs. Yet, during the past month, the players have learned that no matter when the ride stops, they can succeed as a team and that's something that seemed unfathomable two months ago.
"We believe in each other here and that's something we're proud of, so we're not ready to quit," Moore said.
As McCabe said, they'll just "keep kicking along."
Shootout Summary --
|The Rangers' Nigel Dawes scored the winning shootout goal against Boston's Alex Auld Sunday afternoon.
The Bruins and Rangers played to a scoreless tie after regulation and overtime Sunday, and only one player was able to score in the shootout as Nigel Dawes
beat Bruins goaltender Alex Auld
and gave the Rangers the much-coveted extra point in a 1-0 shootout victory.
The Sabres took the Rangers to the shootout once again Monday after tying the game in the second period on a Thomas Vanek
goal. But the Rangers continued their shootout success and handed the Sabres their ninth shootout loss. Buffalo is now 2-9 in shootouts. Scott Gomez
scored the winner for New York and Brendan Shanahan
also scored. Jason Pominville
was the lone Sabres player to score.
-- Senators forward Dany Heatley
had a hat trick Tuesday against the Bruins and has six points in his last four games. Teammate Jason Spezza
has five points (three goals) in his last four games.
Toronto captain Mats Sundin
had three goals and three assists for six points in his last three games. Defenseman Tomas Kaberle
has five assists in three games.
Black and Blue
-- Zdeno Chara
missed his second game in a week Tuesday due to an upper-torso injury. Chara is day-to-day and will be a game-time decision for Thursday's game against Tampa Bay. Patrice Bergeron
continues his recovery from post-concussion syndrome. Bergeron has been skating and practicing and is still holding out hope that he may play this season.
Defenseman Andrew Alberts
is making progress as he recovers from a neck injury. There's a chance he could return within the next two weeks.
Goaltender Manny Fernandez
is also shooting for a return this season as he recovers from knee surgery.
-- The Sabres' defense took another serious blow as Dmitri Kalinin
(shoulder), and Jaroslav Spacek
(chest), were injured in Monday's loss to the Rangers. Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff
told the media Tuesday that Spacek may miss the remainder of the season and Kalinin is out for at least two weeks. Defenseman Nathan Paetsch
was also questionable for Wednesday’s game at Pittsburgh. Forward Steve Bernier
is day-to-day with a groin injury.
-- The Senators remain without captain Daniel Alfredsson
(back spasms) and forward Chris Neil
(knee). Alfredsson is day-to-day and Neil is most likely out for the remainder of the regular season.
-- Forwards Mark Bell
(broken orbital bone), John Pohl
(sprained ankle), and Darryl Boyce (dislocated shoulder), and Boyd Devereaux
(torn right MCL), all remain on injured reserve.
The Week Ahead
-- The Maple Leafs are in Philadelphia Wednesday night to finish off a home-and-home series and the Sabres are in Pittsburgh.
Thursday, the Bruins welcome the Lightning and the Senators and Habs hook up at the Bell Centre.
Friday, the Sabres host the Hurricanes.
The Flyers and Bruins will meet in a Saturday matinee in Boston. Meanwhile, the Sabres are at Toronto and the Canadiens host the Islanders.
There are two afternoon games in the Northeast Sunday as the Bruins play at Washington and the Senators are at Carolina.
Tuesday, the Leafs are on Long Island to play the Islanders and the Blues are in Montreal.