by Patrick Williams
Did leaving the hot zone – and to hear a lot of folks tell it, their Stanley Cup playoffs hopes as well — that is Leafs-Habs at the Bell Centre on a Saturday night for the quiet confines of New Jersey’s Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey benefit Pat Quinn‘s Leafs?
Could be. That is one theory, and certainly a plausible one at that.
But Tuesday night in Philadelphia, the Leafs were right back in the fire, playing in front of a typically obnoxious Philadelphia crowd and up against a Flyers team that had blitzed the Ottawa Senators, 6-3, just three nights earlier and was rolling along quite nicely.
And courtesy of the 4-3 win in New Jersey on Sunday, the Leafs’ postseason hopes at least had nudged forward enough to merit doing some scoreboard-watching, staying abreast of developments in Ottawa and in Montreal and handling media inquiries on the playoff subject yet again.
Not unlike the New Jersey game, the Leafs built a two-goal lead and made it stand up for a 3-2 win over the Flyers, riding goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin through a frantic finish after the Flyers woke up from an early third-period slumber that erased a 1-1 tie after 40 minutes.
With under a minute remaining, perhaps the best Flyers chance came when Philadelphia’s Petr Nedved motored across the Toronto blue line just off the left boards before getting off a nice shot on which Aubin managed to send aside.
Did Aubin have some flashbacks back to Sunday night?
"A little bit," Aubin replied with a laugh. "A little bit. But guys were trying so hard to block shots, be in shooting lanes, and they worked really hard to let me see the shot coming up, and you have to give credit to these guys."
That makes two wins in a 23-day span in Philadelphia this month for Aubin, who defeated the Philadelphia Phantoms across the parking lot at the Wachovia Spectrum back on Mar. 5. With the Marlies this season, Aubin put up a 19-18-2 mark with a 3.04 GAA.
Good, not great numbers, but some praise from Quinn came Aubin’s way after Tuesday night’s stout 28-save performance in the Leafs’ net.
"Our goaltending was really good, when we needed to have it, especially in the third," said Quinn, who later indicated that it is "likely" that Aubin will earn another start.
The Leafs’ playoff hopes are, at best, a remote possibility at this point.
But still there are bright spots in Toronto, and a group of Toronto Marlies have injected some life into a situation that badly needed some new blood.
Ian White and Ben Ondrus have been two bright spots so far, and Aubin, the number-one guy in net for the Marlies this season, is making an improbable bid for the same role with the Leafs that he had with the Marlies, at least for the remainder of this season.
With Ed Belfour on the shelf and Mikael Tellqvist never having been a number-one at the NHL level, Aubin is asking why not him in net?
Aubin, who has a 51-game NHL season back in 1999-2000 on his resume and a 46-game log this season with the Marlies, has proven capable of shouldering a regular workload.
That Aubin has been able to carry the mail in net is not a surprise to NHL fans and scribes. But the fact that Aubin can still carry a full load six seasons after that 51-game campaign is no surprise whatsoever to folks familiar with the AHL.
As well, the Aubin-Tellqvist pairing is something new only to NHL observers. That tandem is plenty familiar to those AHL circles, as Aubin-Tellqvist handled last season’s goaltending chores for the St. John’s Maple Leafs.
"The AHL is a good league and prepares you really well for the NHL," Aubin said.
The St. John’s Maple Leafs last season were an inconsistent team, and with Toronto having announced before last season that the campaign would be the last for the Leafs in St. John’s, a lame-duck situation was in place from the get-go.
So that was the set-up into which Aubin stepped last season. But at the very least, life in St. John’s for Aubin provided a new opportunity, a fresh break from the erratic existence that was the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With Marc-Andre Fleury having been drafted, it was clear that Aubin could benefit from a new scene. St. John’s was Aubin’s foot in the door.
And now, playing in Toronto – be it with the Leafs or the Marlies – Aubin is in the center of Leaf Nation, not a bad place for a goaltender looking to stick in the NHL once again, what with the scouts and hockey personnel that hover around the Toronto hockey scene.
"Yeah. I still miss Pittsburgh. I had been there for so long. But being here, a great organization, the view that we have from everybody playing in Toronto is incredible."
Patrick Williams covers the AHL for theahl.com and SLAM! Sports