By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Oct. 19) – It was a pleasure, flu-bug and all, to be back in the Air Canada Centre press box on Wednesday night, as the Maple Leafs awoke in time to nip the Winnipeg Jets, 4-3, in a shootout. When gazing at the Leafs schedule in June, the opening five games on home ice – most the club has ever played to start a season – looked like a grand opportunity, and it turned out to be exactly that. A 4-0-1 record, and nine points out of 10, provides the hockey club a nice boost heading into its first road trip of the season: a four-gamer to Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia and New York City.
Through two periods of Wednesday’s match, the Leafs mirrored the weather outside – drab and miserable – and were deservedly booed off the ice after 40 minutes. Another example, however, of this being perhaps a different Leafs team than in recent years occurred at 6:44 of the final frame, when Zach Bogosian of Winnipeg took an interference penalty. Joffrey Lupul – the Leafs’ most opportunistic forward – scored his second goal of the night on the powerplay to narrow the visitors’ lead (he would also connect in the shootout). Derek Meech of the Jets was promptly sent off for tripping and Phil Kessel – the NHL’s most dangerous shooter in the first 10 days – tied the game with another powerplay marker. Utilizing a specialist many coaches in the league would envy, Ron Wilson smartly dispatched David Steckel to take an offensive-zone faceoff prior to Kessel’s goal; though he didn’t factor in the scoring, Stekel – 16 for 18 on draws – was Toronto’s most valuable weapon against Winnipeg.
On countless nights such as this – playing a mid-week home game against an uncommon opponent – the Leafs of yesteryear would not have emerged from a second-period funk. But, Kessel has been a game-changer for the Blue & White early in the season and James Reimer – though less than spectacular so far – continues to make timely saves in close games, which is all you can ask of a goaltender.
As promised, my Nikon Coolpix camera will accompany me to Leaf games. Please enjoy these images from my first match of the season.
FROM MY VANTAGE-POINT IN THE PRESS BOX, LEAFS AND JETS WARM UP AT THE ACC.
IT WAS GREAT TO BE BACK AMONG MY COLLEAGUES, INCLUDING MICHAEL TRAIKOS OF THE NATIONAL POST (ABOVE), WHO NEVER TAKES HIS EYE OFF THE PLAY.
FORMER LEAF NIK ANTROPOV (ABOVE) – SCRUFFY BEARD AND ALL – WATCHED A SHOT COME TOWARD GOALIE CHRIS MASON DURING THE PRE-GAME WARM UP.
LEAF PLAYERS CELEBRATE AS REFEREE FREDRICK L’ECUYER POINTS TO THE GOAL BEHIND ONDREJ PAVELIC, SIGNALLING THAT JOFFREY LUPUL’S SECOND-PERIOD SHOT HAD BOUNCED IN AND OUT OFF THE VERTICAL BAR AT THE REAR OF THE CAGE – A FACT QUICKLY VERIFIED BY REPLAY.
WINNIPEG PLAYERS SCRAMBLE TO THWART KESSEL AND LUPUL – THE LEAFS BEST PLAYERS ON THIS NIGHT.
NO, THAT ISN’T “LITTLE LOMBARDI” TAKING THE FACEOFF DOWN BELOW, THOUGH IT WOULD MAKE FOR A NEAT NICKNAME. INSTEAD IT IS BRYAN LITTLE OF WINNIPEG AND MATTHEW LOMBARDI OF THE MAPLE LEAFS SQUARING OFF.
JAMES REIMER GROANS AS THE WINNIPEG PLAYERS CELEBRATE MARK SCHEIFELE’S FIRST NHL GOAL. WANT TO FEEL OLD? SCHEIFELE WAS BORN IN MARCH 1993, JUST AS THE DOUG GILMOUR-LED MAPLE LEAFS WERE GEARING FOR THEIR MAGICAL PLAYOFF RUN.
REIMER HAD TRAFFIC IN FRONT OF HIM MOST OF THE NIGHT – PRIMARILY IN THE SECOND PERIOD, WHEN HIS LEAF TEAMMATES WERE DEAD ASLEEP.
IN THE PLODDING, LIFELESS SECOND PERIOD, RON WILSON WAS EITHER GAZING AT THE SCOREBOARD (ABOVE) OR HOPING TO SUMMON DIVINE INTERVENTION.
THE SITUATION WAS MIGHTY BLEAK FOR THE BLUE & WHITE AS THE MIDDLE FRAME WOUND TO A CLOSE – THE HOME-TOWN HEROES WERE LOUDLY BOOED OFF THE ICE TRAILING WINNIPEG, 3-1. BUT, THE LEAFS CAME TO LIFE WITH POWERPLAY GOALS 27 SECONDS APART IN THE THIRD PERIOD AND EVENTUALLY PREVAILED IN A SHOOTOUT.