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Toronto Maple Leafs Clarke MacArthur (16) puts a shot on goal against the New York Islanders goalie Al Montoya during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Uniondale, New York, March 8, 2011.


Many professional athletes will tell you they never look at the standings.

Just take it one game at a time, you can't control what other teams do and focus on your games 110 per cent.

Others, like Toronto Maple Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur, have a different approach.

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"Daily," he said. "Hourly."

MacArthur admitted on Friday that his team's recent 2-4-1 slide has made the standings watch a frustrating endeavour.

"You go on a good run and other teams are still winning, too," he said. "You're doing positive things, but nothing's showing up. It seems like every time you lose one, everyone else wins one, too. It's tough."

The Leafs surprised everyone coming out of the all-star break like an entirely new team, reeling off a 9-2-4 record in a 31-day stretch that cut a 14-point deficit to only three points by March 3.

Wins have been hard to come by since then, however, and despite playing more games than most of the teams around them in the standings, Toronto is no closer to a playoff berth than it was two weeks ago.

Heading into Saturday night's game against the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins, the Leafs are faced with needing to win eight or nine of their final 10 games to have a hope of qualifying.

Given how they're currently playing and how difficult their schedule is the rest of the way, that's an unlikely proposition.

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"I feel like the guys are mentally stressed out a little bit," said MacArthur, who has been filling in as an alternate captain with Colby Armstrong and Mike Komisarek out of the lineup. "That's almost worse than being tired physically. We emptied the tank in the last few road trips and we've been on a pretty hard stretch.

"Every day, it's we're almost in the playoffs and then we're not. It's draining. It's one of those things when you're fighting for one of those last spots, it's a mental grind the whole way."

Leafs coach Ron Wilson agreed but added that the positive is "the experience you gain" from being in a playoff race.

"It will wear on you," Wilson said said. "Every game's a must-win, that's what everybody's telling you. Then you lose the game, you find out you're not out of it yet. It can wear on you, especially with a young team where many guys haven't been in the NHL experiencing these situations."

The return of Kaberle

A familiar face will be in Toronto on Saturday with defenceman Tomas Kaberle making his first ever appearance with the visiting team at the Air Canada Centre.

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Kaberle was in his 12th season with the Leafs when he was dealt to the Bruins on Feb. 18.

"It's going to be different seeing him on the other team," Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn said.

Wilson didn't sound overly concerned about facing the team's former power play quarterback given Kaberle has gone goalless and has only three assists in 12 games in Boston.

"Kaba's got what, two assists or three assists?" Wilson said. "We'll be aware when he's on the ice, but our game plan's not to shut down Tomas Kaberle. It's to beat the Bruins. They've got a lot of dangerous weapons up front."

Boyce's costume contest

Looking to create a little levity, Leafs centre Darryl Boyce started a costume competition on Twitter on Friday morning, calling for fans to send him pictures of their "best Leafs outfit."

The winner, to be judged by a panel of players, will get two tickets to Toronto's March 29 game against the Buffalo Sabres.

Boyce said he has already been getting some strange entries, but that nothing's too odd to qualify. He's hoping to start a tradition like the Vancouver Canucks have with The Green Men, two college students who began attending games wearing green bodysuits last season.

"People around here say the true fans can't get tickets to a game because it's been sold out, so this is my little opportunity to give back to the true fans who bleed blue and white," Boyce said. "It should be good."

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Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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