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Hockey

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New Leafs could be contenders

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Posted: Friday February 12, 1999 09:35 PM

  Curtis Joseph (right): "We seem to be scoring enough goals to win hockey games, so if I can try to keep it to three or under, that's great." AP

TORONTO (CNN/SI) -- They have a new goalie, a new coach, a new system and a new home. So what else is new? The Leafs are Stanley Cup contenders!

"I'm not sure you term it success yet," said Toronto head coach Pat Quinn, "because I think you measure that at the end."

"I think the thing that's the big difference is we're not talking about the future anymore," observed right wing Tie Domi. "We're talking about the present. That's what I think everybody always wanted to do, and that's play for the year you're in, not three or four years down the road."

For a team that missed the playoffs the last two seasons, the turnaround has been dramatic. Toronto leads the league in scoring, thanks to an aggressive offensive style first-year coach Quinn brought with him from Vancouver.

"It was not hard to convince the guys that we're going to open it up a little bit," said Quinn. "A lot of times, that's the fun part of the game."

Changing Leafs
-- 1997-98 1998-99
Goals
Goals against
Record
122
157
18-28-7
170*
155*
30-19-3*
*Before Saturday's (2/13) game
 

Right wing Steve Thomas likes the new style of play. "It's a more free-flowing, Western Conference type of hockey. I like that better. I think if you asked anyone on the team, I think they'd much more like to play this system than that trap system."

But Toronto's new attack system leaves the team vulnerable to odd man rushes and more shots on goal.

Enter Curtis Joseph, signed to a lucrative free-agent contract in the offseason. Management projected -- correctly -- that Cujo would provide the clutch goaltending to allow the Leafs to crank up their offense.

"If I can, I try to make the big save," said Joseph. "We seem to be scoring enough goals to win hockey games, so if I can try to keep it to three or under, that's great."

"He's definitely MVP in the league right now," said Domi of Joseph. "I think a lot of our peers would agree with us, not just my teammates but around the league."

Added Quinn: "I don't know if curtis will ever be a goaltender where you look up and see him first in average, first in save percentage. But where he might be first is where he is right now -- first in wins -- because he's such a competitor."

The stunningly quick success has fans dreaming of Stanley Cup celebrations, which Toronto hasn't experienced since 1967.

And as the Leafs head to the new Air Canada Centre, the Maple Leaf faithful can only hope history repeats itself. The last time the team moved into a new building was in 1931, a season that also ended with a Stanley Cup.

 
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