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Season a changin

Saturday, 23.11.2002 / 12:00 AM / News
Toronto Maple Leafs
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Season a changin
by John McCauley

TORONTO -- At the first-quarter pole the Toronto Maple Leafs are starting to make their move.

Winners in four of their last five games and points in seven of their last 11, the Blue and White appear to be on the right track thanks in part to a 6-0 thumping of the Philadelphia Flyers, Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.

It was the second straight shutout for Ed Belfour, who is playing like a goaltender many years his junior. His streak started Tuesday against the Eastern Conference leading Boston Bruins. Before this recent change of fortune, there was a triad of problems for Toronto.

1. Players were committing defensive blunders at the worst possible times.
2. They lost the balanced attack the team was once known for.
3. The first two brought confidence down to teenage levels.

Defence has been the biggest difference in the Leafs play lately.
Graig Abel Photography
Solving those issues hasn't been easy and is a work in progress.

The biggest turnaround has come between the pipes. Early in the year Belfour was struggling with defensive communication, his surroundings (namely at ACC) and his rebounds. Now under control Belfour has excelled allowing just four goals on his last 123 shots.

"We've really bared down and played better defensively," Belfour understated.

As trust's been built between Belfour and his teammates, confidence in the dressing room has soared back to preseason levels. Now the players believe Belfour will be there for them when they make mistake and vice-versa. The atmosphere allows players relax and create.

"We were getting these great big errors out of people where you hope they will make smart plays. We were losing hockey games when the general play was pretty good," Quinn said before giving an analogy to describe what he sensed his team felt like.

"You go into that rabbit stage where you're frozen in the scream of the hawk."

Huh? No matter.

With the jitters gone, so too are the glaring giveaways and turnovers. The Leafs have played 120 plus minutes of mistake-free hockey and that goes a long way towards keeping this team rolling. Combine that with players actually starting to put pucks in the net and it's a winning formula.

Six different Leafs scored against the Flyers and Mats Sundin didn't appear among them. Not that that's a good thing but it does point to Toronto getting production from some unfamiliar faces. The struggling Jonas Hoglund, Jyrki Lumme and Darcy Tucker all got in on the action.

"I think we got the monkey off our back but the gorilla is still there," Lumme said. "There's a fine line. Things could have gone the other way."

Things just may have gone the other way long enough for Toronto.

A REAL SUPER SWEDE

Mikael Renberg's heart of gold has turned a teenager's difficult situation into 11 days of joy-filled memories.

Andreas Joanson, 17, was paralyzed from the neck down last January when he was checked head first into the boards during a hockey game in Lulea, near where Renberg grew up in Sweden.

Renberg arranged for the boy to receive a jersey signed by all his Toronto teammates last summer but that didn't satisfy the big winger.

Renberg picked up the bill for Andreas, his brother Fredrik, his father Roger and a nurse to spend the past 11 days in Toronto.

"Just to see his eyes when he walked in the locker room at the Air Canada Centre is worth every dollar,'' said Renberg.

ROCKIN' GOOD TIME

Canadian legend Stompin' Tom Connors played live during the second intermission as part of Inco Sudbury Saturday Night, which commemorated the steel company's 100th anniversary. It was the crowning event in a year of celebrations.
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