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The Toronto Maple Leafs are no one's idea of an NHL contender, except when it comes to the Washington Capitals.

In their first two encounters this season, the Leafs staged third-period comebacks and took three of a possible four points off the Caps, a potent offensive force sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference. Both games were in the Capitals' arena, the first in November when Washington won 5-4 in a shootout, and the second in December when Toronto won 5-4 in a shootout.

"I can't explain it," Toronto head coach Ron Wilson said when asked how the Leafs can stay with one of the most explosive teams in the league. "We really play them hard. We're really on our toes against them."

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A good part of the reason is the Capitals' season-long struggle for consistency. After getting knocked out of the playoffs early last spring by the Montreal Canadiens, the Capitals started slowly this season and began shaking off their lethargy only when they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year's Day in the Winter Classic.

Also looking as if he is rising from a slumber is Washington superstar Alexander Ovechkin. He has 48 points in 48 games, but only 16 goals. However, after going without a point in three consecutive games, Ovechkin has a goal and an assist in his last two.

"He's still a threat every time he steps on the ice," Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek said. "No one in this room can take him lightly.

"We were a little sloppy this week [in a 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers] We got caught off-guard and Marian Gaborik scored four on us. We can't let that happen again."

The Leafs will get one player back in the lineup for Saturday's game in Toronto against the Capitals, and may see one depart. Back is winger Fredrik Sjostrom, who was out with a charley horse. The departure may be forward Colton Orr, who banged his head on the ice Thursday in a fight with George Parros of the Anaheim Ducks.

The fight lasted only a couple of seconds because Orr lost his balance, fell and hit his head. He felt woozy and did not return to the game.

Wilson said Orr was undergoing medical tests Friday afternoon to determine if he has a concussion. The coach said he does not know if Orr will be able to play on Saturday.

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"We're not sure if he has an injury," Wilson said. "We want to make sure."

With the return of Sjostrom and winger Mike Brown, back in the lineup after serving a three-game suspension, forward Marcel Mueller was sent down to the Leafs' Toronto Marlies farm team.

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More


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