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The Toronto Maple Leafs: Suddenly in the Hunt!

Eric WarrenCorrespondent IIDecember 3, 2009

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 21:  Niklas Hagman #9, Jason Blake #55 and Carl Gunnarsson #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate goal against the Washington Capitals during game action November 21, 2009 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in what is un-familiar territory so far this season: the hunt for a playoff position.

While it is way to early to seriously make that kind of assertion, The re-tooled Leafs look like they are starting to find their way.

On the strength of some solid goal-tending, from Jonas Gustavsson , Vesa Toskala , and Joey MacDonald and some exciting offense from the likes of Niklas Hagman and Phil Kessel , the Leafs currently sit only seven points back of the eighth place Tampa Bay Lightning.

There does, however, seem to be a strange trend developing with the goaltenders. Toskala had played solid in net for three or four consecutive starts and then tweaked his groin.

"The Monster" has been regaining the form that had Leafs Nation chanting his name in the pre-season, then suffered a heart arrhythmia after the first period of Tuesday's game against Montreal.

Doctors performed a minor medical procedure known as an ablation to address Gustavsson's heart issue in training camp, but Wilson said the major difference this time is that his heart rate came down on its own. In training camp the heart rate didn't come down until he received medication at the hospital.

Even though Gustavsson appeared to be fine, Wilson didn't hesitate to tell MacDonald to get ready.

"I'm not going to be responsible for someone keeling over during a game,'' said Wilson. "A game is not that important.''

The Toronto Maple Leafs are even impressing one of the most respected coaches in the game today. Bruce Buodreau of the Washington Capitals was quick to praise the team after Washington's shoot loss out to the Leafs last Friday.

"I have no idea why they're in the position they're in, but I know they're a dangerous club,'' said Boudreau. "They can throw guys over the boards, they can play the game.

"They're going to turn it around very shortly. Whether they're too far (out of the playoffs) or not, I don't know. But they're going to be a hard team to play against in the not-too-distant future.''

December looks to be a much better month for the Blue and White. With their penalty kill showing signs of improvement, points in six of their last seven games, solid goal tending and offensive contributions from more than one player, the worm has finally started to turn.

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Leafs fans already know that it has been a strange season in the NHL, but who would have thought that, if the playoffs started today, The Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Dallas Stars and the Philadelphia Flyers would all be on the outside looking in?

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Alex Ovechkin received a two-game suspension for his knee-on-knee hit against Tim Gleason the other night. While I commend Colin Campbell for actually doing it, Ovie was going to be out for a couple of games anyway because he hurt himself throwing the hit. Perhaps it would have had more of an impact if it started when he came back from injury.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs' young star prospect Nazem Kadri was picked to join the Selection Camp for the Team Canada Juniors, who will try for their sixth straight Gold at this year's tournament.

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Lastly, a very happy birthday to Mapleleafs.commentator, Mike Ulmer. Mike turned fifty today, and he doesn't look a day over it. He doesn't really look a day under it either, as well, Happy Birthday Mike!

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