Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Leafs panic? 'Absolutely not'

Losers of four straight, they insist all is well

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TORONTO -- Without giving away any indication it could be true, the Toronto Maple Leafs calmly insisted Friday there is no panic despite having lost four straight games.

The Leafs' worst stretch of the season, extended by Thursday's late collapse in a 3-1 home loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, brought the questions.

"No, there's no panic here," said Toronto's leading scorer Phil Kessel, making an infrequent but clearly deliberate appearance in the locker-room after Friday's practice at MasterCard Centre. "We're still in a playoff spot, right? There's 20 games left and if we keep competing and playing hard, we'll make it."

The Leafs, with just a shootout-loss point to Pittsburgh to show for their last four games, meet the Winnipeg Jets at Air Canada Centre tonight (6 p.m., CBC, TSN 1290). The Jets had their way with the Leafs 5-2 on Tuesday in Winnipeg.

"Panic? Absolutely not," said Leafs forward Nazem Kadri. "We've just got to correct a few things here and we'll be OK.

"This team's done a good job of hitting the reset button."

That's the track Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle took on Friday at the daily grilling ... er, scrum with reporters.

The matter is all the more sensitive here, given the Leafs' great start to last season, and second-half swoon that left them far out of the playoff picture.

"This is a different group, built different right out of training camp," Carlyle said Friday. "The way we lost (Thursday) night can really tear at your soul. What we've tried to do is point out the positives. We're going to have to correct some of the negatives taking place on the ice, but overall we did a lot more good things than bad things and gave ourselves a chance."

The coach wasn't trying to gloss over defeats and it's clear Tuesday's loss at the MTS Centre left a mark as the rematch comes up tonight.

"It's not fun when you've got one point out of a possible eight," he said. "But we've played some of our better games in two of them. The game we played in Winnipeg we're not proud of at all. That was a bad game for us.

"It's a challenge because there are no easy games. They're an opponent that's on a little bit of a hot streak, won again (Thursday) night. There's no secret to what they did, they came in and outworked us in their building. That's why we were embarrassed."

The Leafs, who stand one point ahead of Winnipeg, 31-30, but have played one more game, will have what could be a significant lineup adjustment for tonight's game.

They've activated winger Joffrey Lupul, who broke a bone in his arm in Game 3 of the season. To make roster room for the offensive forward who had 25 goals last season, Toronto dealt David Steckel to Anaheim.

"He's available to our hockey club when he tells us he's ready to play," Carlyle said. "Then we'll have to make a decision on whether we think he's game-ready."

It seems that's already done. Lupul told reporters Friday he will play against the Jets.

And showing that while there may be some worry in there somewhere, Carlyle continues to be a balanced figure in front of Toronto fans and reporters.

There is plenty of seriousness to his sessions but humour also maintains a place.

Asked about what he needs from Lupul, the coach replied: "He'd better score 100 goals."

After the smile, he added: That's what he's paid to do, make a contribution to the offence."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2013 C7

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