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Blowout: Path of least resistance

Esasy does it for the Maple Leafs

There was a blotch of blood over his right lip, he was soaked in perspiration, and at age 37, Joe Nieuwendyk appeared to have been on the losing end of a hotly contested game.

"It's never easy," he said, "but . . ."

Last night, it was. That is what he was trying to say, but in a polite and sporting way, because with 17 NHL seasons behind him, Nieuwendyk knows blowouts like the 6-0 drubbing of the Bruins at the FleetCenter happen. It surprised him, for sure -- these are teams battling for first place in the Northeast Division -- but he warned not to read much into it, and one by one his teammates echoed those thoughts.

"Not to take anything away from us, but I think we caught Boston on an off night," said another Toronto veteran, Mats Sundin, who assisted on both of Nieuwendyk's power-play goals, including the winner 16:23 into the game. Few could have predicted that goal would ignite a romp, but the visitors concede everything was in line for such a turn of events. For one, the Leafs have won seven straight; for another, the Bruins appeared dogged, having played the night before in Atlanta.

"We knew they had to travel [Wednesday] night. It's the nature of the business," said Toronto defenseman Ken Klee. "Our goal was to get a lead on them and make 'em play catch-up."

It was a blueprint that was followed to perfection as everything worked well for Toronto -- what little goaltending was needed was provided by Ed Belfour, whose 67th career shutout moved him to 11th on the career list; the defense continually stifled the Bruins, and the power play clicked the first three times it had the opportunity. Indeed, things went so well for the visitors that even heavyweight Tie Domi traded in the fisticuffs for the offensive glory, getting his second goal of the season to make it 2-0, then assisting on Bryan McCabe's goal 8:13 into the third.

"All in all, a good night for us. We were pretty sharp," said Toronto coach Pat Quinn. "Clearly, [the schedule] worked to our advantage. It was one of those nights -- and we have so few of them -- when we got some extra goals."

Goals? Those haven't been coming Boston's way of late, at least not at home. The Bruins have scored just four in their last three games at the FleetCenter and they seemed to be out of their game and pressing as early as the third period.

On one rush up ice, Joe Thornton couldn't get away from the relentless Klee, so he took a swing at the defenseman and seconds later Nick Boynton was called for a sloppy penalty that led to Nieuwendyk's second score and a 3-0 lead.

The boos showered down, but Klee didn't sense any sort of frustration on Boston's part.

"I didn't notice," said Klee. "They're a good team. Look at their record. I just think we were fortunate. I think we're feeling pretty good about ourselves."

There's no mystery about this seven-game streak, during which Toronto has outscored the opposition, 27-12, and pulled into a 3-point lead over the second-place Bruins.

"We're keeping it simple," said Sundin, now in his 14th year and 10th with Toronto. "We're trying to spend more time in their end than in our end. Certainly, it was a tough start for us [the Leafs began the season 0-1-2] and we like the way we've played lately, but it's only early December here and obviously there's a lot of hockey left to play."

The Bruins know that's true. They're just hoping there's no more like last night.

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