Leafs have matured into playoff-bound winners | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaLeafs have matured into playoff-bound winners

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 | 11:14 PM

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Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, centre, reacts after scoring the game-tying goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period in Toronto on Thursday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press) Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, centre, reacts after scoring the game-tying goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period in Toronto on Thursday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

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The Toronto Maple Leafs bounced back for a third-period comeback win over the Carolina Hurricanes at home on Thursday, something that was rarely seen in their seven previous playoff-less seasons.
Under head coach Randy Carlyle, the Toronto Maple Leafs have come a long way baby.

If you don't buy it, rewind your memory bank to any of the past seven playoff-less seasons.

How many times did you see the Maple Leafs blow a lead to wind up losing a game that was in their grasp?

On Thursday evening at the Air Canada Centre, the Maple Leafs dominated for the first-half of their 6-3 win. They built a 2-0 lead, only to see Carolina Hurricanes goalie Justin Peters keep his teammates closer than they should have been.

A shorthanded breakaway goal from Eric Staal midway through the second period gave Carolina life. A pinpoint power-play shot from Alexander Semin sent the two teams tied into the final frame.

It didn't take the other Staal, Jordan, long in the third period to give the Hurricanes the lead. But unlike previous Maple Leafs teams, this group didn't fold up for the evening. Joffrey Lupul made sure of that.

He set up captain Dion Phaneuf for a power-play blast and then Lupul scored on a brilliant end-to-end rush to turn the momentum around in favour of Toronto.

Lupul finished off his seventh goal in eight games this season, and second straight game-winner, by swooping around Carolina defenceman Joe Corvo for a dandy.

"That's going to be a highlight reel goal for a long time," Phaneuf said.

"He's a man on a mission right now," Leafs defenceman Cody Franson added.

So what's the difference this year? Why the comeback to hand a Carolina team its fourth straight loss and put the Maple Leafs seven points clear of ninth place with 13 games remaining on the regular-season docket.

"Last year, we probably wouldn't have won that game," Lupul said. "We're maturing as a hockey team."

It wasn't too long ago the Maple Leafs faithful was fretful, when its boys began the second half of the season with an 0-3-2 slump. There was fear that the Leafs were setting themselves up for a second-half collapse.

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Too much coaching

Carlyle doesn't know the exact point, but in the last few weeks it was brought to his attention by assistant coaches Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin that they sensed there was too much coaching going on.

The players constantly had coaches in their ears and as a result their minds were too cluttered. They became too edgy. So the coaching staff reduced their chatter, the players relaxed and started to win again. Toronto now has points in seven consecutive games.

Lupul has been a big part of the turnaround since he returned from his broken forearm. The 29-year-old left wing has been dynamite.

"It's always nice to score a goal like that with - how much time was left - three or four minutes?" said Lupul, who scored with exactly 3:10 remaining. Jay McClement and Nikolai Kulemin added empty-netters.

Lupul revealed that he feels fresh because of all the time he's had off with the back injury that cost him 87 games in 2009-10 and 2010-11, a separated shoulder at the end of last season and his forearm ailment this year.

This is good news for the Maple Leafs.

"There is nobody who prepares himself more [than Lupul]," Carlyle said. "He should be commended.

"[On the winning goal], he was determined and he wasn't going to take no for an answer."

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