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One month to go and the Leafs feel good after surviving injuries

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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One month to go and the Leafs feel good after surviving injuries

The Canadian Press
By:

Head coach Paul Maurice likes his team's chances, pointing to the fact the Leafs have survived despite 297 man games lost to injury as of Sunday.

"Because the three teams that are below us in man-games (lost to injury) have been destroyed, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Chicago," said Maurice. "But this team found a way to survive, through depth, through great leadership, through a goaltender fighting through some adversity.

"It's found a way. So you can't not believe in a team that won't quit. To use it again, it's a dog fight and we've got the teeth marks. We've got teeth marks all over us but we're still biting a bit."

The Leafs are still missing two key components in star defenceman Tomas Kaberle (concussion) and top checking centre Michael Peca (leg) but welcomed back forward Kyle Wellwood for Saturday night's 4-3 overtime win over Ottawa, following behind the recent returns of star winger Darcy Tucker and defenceman Pavel Kubina.

There were also injuries earlier this season to forwards Mats Sundin, Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky as well as defencemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Andy Wozniewski.

They're all back, and the Leafs showed Saturday in a stirring comeback win over the Senators what kind of team they can be.

"I think sometimes this hockey club has been underestimated in what it's gone through," said Maurice. "I haven't done a very good job marketing that.

"You look at Pittsburgh, the 'We Have To Protect Sidney Crosby' marketing campaign, it was brilliant, they lead the league in power plays. I did not do a good job marketing the fact we lead the league or did a couple days ago in man games lost to injury."

The reinforced Leafs erased a pair of two-goal deficits Saturday before capping it with Tucker's overtime winner, the fiery forward giving the old fist pump towards the Air Canada Centre crowd, perhaps a pivotal moment in Toronto's roller-coaster season.

"It could be one of the turning points of the season," said Tucker. "There's lots of ups and downs in a season and we've had a lot of injuries. There's a lot of nice stories that can come out of our season if we play like we did tonight and get into the playoffs."

Maurice agreed his team could build off Saturday's emotional win with 13 games to go in the regular season.

"I'm very, very hopeful," he said. "But I also know we're going to be back at it on Tuesday (against Tampa Bay). You say you're hoping for that turning point but our task at hand is we going to face two of the best shooters in the world on Tuesday."

Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, second and third, respectively, in NHL scoring, come to the Air Canada Centre to wrap up a six-game road trip that has them 3-2-0, including wins in their last two games at Edmonton and Calgary.

The Leafs (75 points) are one point behind the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers (76) and Carolina (76) ahead of them. The Rangers edged the Hurricanes 2-1 in a huge shootout victory Sunday afternoon. Montreal is just one point back of Toronto at 74 points.

A look at their schedules this week:

-Rangers - host Ottawa on Tuesday, play Friday at Atlanta and host Boston on Saturday.

-Hurricanes - host Florida on Tuesday before playing a home-and-home with New Jersey on Thursday and Saturday.

-Leafs - after the game against the Lightning, Friday at Washington and Saturday at Montreal.

-Canadiens - host the Islanders on Tuesday, play Friday at Pittsburgh and host Toronto on Saturday.

Boston and Florida each have 71 points, still in striking distance, the Bruins winning 6-3 at Detroit on Sunday.

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One month to go and the Leafs feel good after surviving injuries