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Injuries leave limping Maple Leafs with very few ways of shaking things up

TORONTO - In the wake of his team's most embarrassing loss of the season, Paul Maurice surveyed his lineup and didn't find any easy solutions.

"Not a lot of options here," said the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. "There's not a lot to do." That means the Leafs will play in Montreal on Thursday with pretty much the same team that was beaten 8-0 by Florida two nights earlier.

The one exception could be defenceman Bryan McCabe, who has hinted strongly that he would return for the game in Montreal. McCabe skated through a full practice on Wednesday but didn't meet the media afterwards.

All signs point to his return more than seven weeks after he broke his hand during a game at the Bell Centre.

"He's through his healing window," said Maurice. "We'll just make a decision tomorrow."

The Leafs were surprisingly relaxed a little more than 14 hours after suffering their most lopsided loss of the season. Maurice put his team through a long practice on Wednesday but there weren't too many long faces.

Forward Dominic Moore believes that it's important for athletes to remain even keel.

"I think in sports sometimes you have to have a short memory," he said. "Whether you win or you lose sometimes you have to have a short memory to make sure you're focused on the next thing."

In this case, the next thing is a game against a Canadiens team that has moved within one point of first place in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto's strategy will be pretty simple.

"We just have to make sure that we're ready to play - and play at a high level," said forward Jason Blake.

They clearly weren't ready to play during the second period of Tuesday's loss to the Panthers. Toronto allowed a goal 10 seconds into the period before quickly giving up two more to fall behind 4-0.

That was particularly frustrating for Maurice because it's something he's seen all too often this season. He's spoken to his players many times about what they need to do to keep games from snowballing.

"You can't always save the patient but you can at least stop the bleeding," said Maurice.

Several of the Leafs seemed eager to put the Panthers loss completely out of mind but the coach promises that it won't happen.

He structured his Wednesday practice drills around the shortcomings he saw on film and plans to keep the reminders coming.

"Believe me, the video on that didn't get thrown in the trash," said Maurice. "It's gone through and will be gone through again."

The Maple Leafs sit 14th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 21-25-9. A trying season probably won't get any easier as Toronto continues its slow march to a third straight year out of the post-season.

Injuries and absences continue to play their part, although it looks as if Maurice will have more bodies available when the team gets back from Montreal. Nik Antropov will be eligible to return from a suspension on Saturday against Detroit while Alex Steen is hopeful to join him after missing two weeks with a shoulder injury.

In the meantime, they'll face the familiar task of bouncing back from a big loss.

"Unfortunately we've had a lot of these situations where we've had to rebound after a pretty difficult loss and we've been able to do that," said Maurice.

It's been some time since they've faced such a task.

Moore was claimed off waivers on Jan. 11 and hadn't been on the wrong end of any blowouts before Florida came to town. He's felt encouraged by the play of his new team.

"Over the last few weeks we've been in every game," said Moore. "Even the games we've lost we've played extremely well, extremely hard."

Maurice believes they'll get back to that kind of hockey quickly.

Consecutive games against two of the NHL's best in Montreal and Detroit should be motivation enough.

"I'm sure there's going to be enough fear in that locker-room going out to the ice that we need to compete a whole hell of a lot harder than we did last night," said Maurice.


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