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Looking for reasons to watch the Leafs down the stretch

On the bad nights, when the team is listless, watching the Leafs play down the stretch is not a lot better than watching paint dry—you know something is happening, but every moment looks just as uneventful as the one before.

In fairness, there have been more nights than not lately when they have been worth watching.

Last night against a Ranger team desperate for a win, they hung in long enough to come back front a 2-0 deficit and make it a game. They eventually won it in overtime- something they’ve suddenly got pretty good at after having almost zero OT success in the first three-quarters of the season.

There were some things I liked last night:
• Despite the first-period letdown, Gustavsson generally continues to look more composed as he gains more experience. He’s still his athletic, agile self, but he just doesn’t seem to be all over the place like he was early in the season. That calm-as-anything poke check on Jokinen’s breakaway kept the score at 2-1 late in the third. Whether his improvement is the result of maturity, experience, being past his health concerns, and/or Allaire working with him, it doesn’t matter to me. He looks like he can be an NHL goalie. Maybe even a good one.

• Bozak’s play all over the ice. Heck, he was in his own crease saving a possible goal at one point, and was involved offensively creating several dangerous chances, in addition to his now customary prowess on faceoffs.

• Sjostrom, while not part of the kiddie corps exactly, looks like a pesky, annoying player that can be a solid third-liner for the Leafs. And his obvious penalty-killing ability makes him valuable in an area that the Leafs have just been horrible at for some years now.

• Schenn continues to make strides. Leafs fans will be hoping he will come into camp in September confident—having survived the experience of handling the scrutiny that only a young hockey player struggling in Toronto has to face.

• Beauchemin looks more like himself lately, at least to me. I sense this is more what he will be next season.

• Fans will be expecting more from Phaneuf next season. Yes, he’s been good and has certainly helped the penalty kill. I’m not sure if he’s delivered the spectacular things we expected—the booming slap shot, some goals and huge hits—but despite the occasional defensive lapse, he’s made a difference.

• Kulemin continues this most impressive of sophomore campaigns. But I’ve written about him enough in recent weeks.

• They’re not giving up a lot of goals most nights, a trait they will need to build on to be successful when it matters—next season and beyond.

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