TORONTO – Buried beneath the endless trade rumours and the doom and gloom of what appears to be a lost season is the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs have been getting some good results from unlikely places.
Take another strong night and two assists from Dominic Moore, for example. Or how about Chad Kilger’s 10th goal of the season? A healthy stretch of games and a goal from defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo must be seen as welcome news too.
All three of those contributions and a 26-save performance from Vesa Toskala helped Toronto to a 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.
With the trade deadline just a week away, there’s been little focus on some of the positive things happening at Air Canada Centre – like the emergence of the Moore-Kilger-Boyd Devereaux line.
“They’re the kind of guys that are sort of underrated,” Moore said of his linemates. “What they do a lot of times goes unnoticed – little things that make a big difference.
“I think the three of us sort of know how to support each other that way.”
Even with a second straight victory, the Maple Leafs remain 14th in the Eastern Conference and seven points behind Boston for the final playoff spot. The Bruins have two games in hand as well.
There still seems to be too many teams and not enough time to make up that kind of ground. And strangely, the local fans don’t even seem overly interested in entertaining the idea.
The Maple Leafs have been playing in front of some empty seats during their longest homestand of the season and one of the louder cheers during Tuesday’s win was reserved for a female fan who decided to flash the crowd.
“I missed it,” said Mats Sundin. “Is that true?”
It was, unlike many of the rumours that have been circulating around the captain of late.
Many have speculated that this could be Sundin’s last week as a Maple Leaf even though he has given every indication that he won’t waive his no-movement clause to help complete a deal. Some even suggested the game against Columbus could be his last with the Leafs.
“Is it? I didn’t know that. I haven’t heard anything,” Sundin said with a smile. “I’m a hockey player. I don’t have any other agendas other than to be as good as I can be when I come out and practice and play for this team. That’s what I’ll continue to do.
“I’ll leave the rest to you guys – you’re doing a good job of that.”
His teammates did a good job Tuesday of shutting down the Blue Jackets.
Colaiacovo, Kilger and Nik Antropov scored for Toronto (25-27-9) while Nikolai Zherdev replied for the Blue Jackets (27-26-9).
Toskala started for the 17th time in 18 games as Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice has pretty much nailed backup Andrew Raycroft to the end of the bench. The Finn was happy with the way the team played in front of him.
“I think it was a pretty solid game from us,” said Toskala. “Not many turnovers, everybody was helping each other out there. Pretty good game.”
All of the scoring was done in the first period.
Colaiacovo made it 1-0 for the home side at 5:41 when his point shot beat Blue Jackets goalie Pascal Leclaire.
Antropov extended that lead at 15:13, just six seconds after Ron Hainsey had been sent off for holding. The big Kazhak was planted at the side of the goal when he knocked the puck out of the air and flipped it into an empty.
The Blue Jackets rebounded quickly. Zherdev beat Toskala with a quick shot after taking a pass from Michael Peca at 15:43.
Kilger restored the two-goal advantage before the intermission. After a broken rush, he spun and fired a shot under Leclaire’s left leg at 16:57.
Columbus, which started the night three points out of a playoff spot in the West, barely threatened during the final two periods. The Blue Jackets now head to Ottawa for a game Thursday before visiting Montreal on Saturday.
“We’re really desperate right now,” said Leclaire. “We’re not playing the way we want to play, and since the (All Star) break, we haven’t played the hockey we did before. We’ve got to get back to it, because there aren’t a lot of games left, and other teams are playing well. We’ve got to keep ourselves in the (playoff) mix.”
The Maple Leafs are trying to hold on to belief that they’re still in it too.
Colaiacovo has missed most of the season with a knee injury and has had more time than his teammates to reflect on what could have been.
“I know in the beginning, sitting back and watching, it was frustrating seeing some of the losses that we had to endure,” said Colaiacovo. “It was definitely frustrating watching that knowing that I could have helped.
“There’s nothing I can do or anybody can do to control what happened the first half of the season. Right now we’re happy we got everyone back and we’re still trying to salvage what’s left of the season.”
Notes: Toronto has allowed a league-worst 106 goals against on home ice …It was just the fifth regular-season meeting ever between the teams … The Jackets only have three players with more than 10 goals: Rick Nash (31), Zherdev (24) and Jason Chimera (11) … Maple Leafs enforcer Wade Belak was a healthy scratch for the fifth straight game.