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Leafs' rollercoaster ride peaks for arrival of Red Wings at Air Canada Centre

TORONTO - The Mighty Canadian Minebuster at Canada's Wonderland is the largest and longest wooden rollercoaster in the country, and the Toronto Maple Leafs feel as if they've been riding it all winter.

"There've been a lot of ups and downs," says Boyd Devereaux. "We've never kind of stayed in one place too long.

"We seem to be running well then run into trouble. It's been quite a ride, for sure."

The 29-year-old centre rode the Minebuster, located at a theme park just outside Toronto, when he was a boy.

"I liked it," he says.

The rollercoaster his team has been on has been something else entirely.

"This can be pretty taxing," Devereaux said after practice Friday. "We're always struggling to right the ship.

"It's always nice when you can string together a high period and ride it for a while. That's always the ideal, but if it's not the case you just have to keep trying to hit the ups, I guess."

The latest example of the extremes to which the Leafs go was the last three-game stretch: a 4-2 home win over Eastern Conference leader Ottawa, an 8-0 home loss to lowly Florida and a 4-2 win against a good Canadiens team in Montreal.

Detroit visits Saturday (3 p.m. ET) and nobody has a clue as to which version of the Toronto team, currently 14th in the 15-team East and 28th overall, will show up to play the Red Wings, who are No. 1 in the West and overall.

"It's always tough mentally when you don't play as well as you want to as a team . . . when you don't do the things you need to do to win hockey games," said Darcy Tucker, who emerged from his funk to get two goals against the Canadiens. "You take those things home with you and you dwell on them.

"There's a thousand different ways to slice it and I think we've found a thousand different ways to find some ways to lose hockey games at particular times of the year. Hopefully, we can regroup and play well down the stretch."

Tucker and his teammates have no ready answer to explain why they play well against good teams and poorly against others in their neighbourhood near the bottom of the standings.

"For whatever reason, we seem to rise to the occasion when it comes to playing some good hockey clubs," said Tucker. "That's what makes it so frustrating for us.

"We know what we're capable of. Unfortunately, we haven't lived up to the expectations we had for ourselves."

The return in Montreal of defenceman Bryan McCabe, who had missed 22 games with a broken left hand, was a boost.

"It's a little sore but not too bad," he replied when asked how his hand felt Friday. "It's coming around so we'll be all right."

Big centre Nik Antropov will be back in the lineup against the Red Wings after serving a three-game suspension for tossing his stick in the direction of the referees after a tough overtime loss at Carolina last week.

Alex Steen, who has missed five games with a separated shoulder, is a "possibility" after his full participation in practice Friday, said coach Paul Maurice.

Alexei Ponikarovsky, who has missed the last six games with a dislocated shoulder, is "best case, a week away," Maurice added.

Defenceman Andy Wozniewski and forward Ben Ondrus were assigned to the AHL's Toronto Marlies.

McCabe is looking forward to a rare game against Detroit.

"It's going to be my daughter's first game so I'm excited," he said. "We don't get many afternoon games around here. It should be fun."

Fun if they win.

If they lose, well, it'll just be another breathtaking drop on their rollercoaster ride through the NHL.

With 26 games remaining, Toronto is seven points behind the seventh-place New York Rangers. The Leafs were six back of the Boston Bruins, who held the eighth and final playoff qualifying position with three games in hand over Toronto going into their game in Buffalo on Friday night.


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