By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Jan. 15) – It is difficult to decide which was more predictable: the Maple Leafs losing in Buffalo on Friday, or getting swamped by the New York Rangers at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Given that Leafs prevail in Buffalo about as often as a flood in the Sahara, it is majorly tempting to choose Door No. 1. The Rangers, however, are playing a caliber of hockey that will subdue most teams, particularly an opponent with rubbery legs and scant energy – a fatal combination for the Leafs on Saturday.
While the New Yorkers rested in their Toronto hotel Friday night, the Leafs went to the wall against the Sabres and came out on the short end of a 3-2 score. Prudently, Rangers’ coach John Tortorella instructed his players to lean on Toronto’s key marksmen, figuring Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, Tim Connolly, Mikhail Grabovski et al would wither beneath a relentless physical assault. That Leafs were blanked for only the second time this season (Boston laid waste to the Blue and White, 7-0, here on Nov. 5), upheld the Rangers strategy.
A goal by Mike Rupp at 3:35 of the second period was all the visitors required; later tallies by Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan putting an exclamation mark on New York’s 28th victory of the season (10-2 in its past 12 road games) and vaulting Rangers back into first place in the overall NHL standings.
As the Maple Leafs have done throughout Brian Burke’s tenure as president and general manager, they hosted Canadian Forces Appreciation Night, comprised of a splendid pre-game ceremony with both teams watching from the boards, and an autograph/photo session with Leaf players on the ice after the game. Inherently patriotic as an American, Burke has insisted that Canadian troops returning from battle in Afghanistan be feted and honored at the ACC; under his stewardship, the Leafs have pioneered such recognition.
My photo-review, now, of the game and festivities on Saturday night:
DURING THE PRE-GAME WARM-UP, LEAF PLAYERS (ABOVE) WERE DECKED OUT IN CAMO JERSEYS THAT HONORED 450 TROOPS IN ATTENDANCE.
A SOLDIER AND HIS YOUNG DAUGHTER STEP ONTO THE ICE AT THE ACC (ABOVE) DURING PRE-GAME CEREMONY, AS BOTH CLUBS LOOK ON.
HOW APPROPRIATE IT WAS FOR THE NHL’s ALL-TIME LEADER IN PENALTY MINUTES TO SHOW UP IN FULL BATTLE-GEAR AND RIDING A CANADIAN FORCES G-WAGON. DAVE (TIGER) WILLIAMS, THE IMMENSELY POPULAR LEAF FROM THE LATE-’70s AND A TIRELESS SUPPORTER OF OUR MILITARY, MAKES HIS ANNUAL APPEARANCE ON TROOPS NIGHT (ABOVE).
TROOPS SALUTE CANADIAN FLAG (ABOVE) WHILE STANDING AT CENTRE-ICE DURING THE SINGING OF O CANADA.
AFTER THE CEREMONY, THE GAME GOT UNDERWAY AROUND 7:20 P.M.
RANGERS CAPTAIN RYAN CALLAHAN SNUCK BEHIND MIKE KOMISAREK (ABOVE) IN THE OPENING MINUTES, WHILE NAZEM KADRI ENJOYED TORONTO’S BEST CHANCE (BELOW) DURING THE SCORELESS FIRST PERIOD.
THOUGH RANGERS GAVE KING HENRIK THE NIGHT OFF (ABOVE), LEAFS WERE UNABLE TO CAPITALIZE, AS VETERAN MARTY BIRON (NOW 9-2) HANDLED A LIGHT WORK-LOAD FOR HIS SECOND SHUT-OUT OF THE SEASON.
HARDLY AN UNUSUAL SIGHT IN THE NHL: DAVID STECKEL WINNING A FACE-OFF CLEANLY (ABOVE) – THIS ONE AGAINST FORMER LEAF JOHN MITCHELL.
THE RANGERS’ POPULAR TV BROADCASTING DUO OF SAM ROSEN (ABOVE LEFT) AND JOE MICHELETTI IS ALL SMILES DURING THE FIRST INTERMISSION. ROSEN IS A BUSY MAN, CALLING A GAME ALMOST EVERY SUNDAY OF THE NFL SEASON FOR FOX TV. MICHELETTI PLAYED 158 GAMES WITH ST. LOUIS AND THE OLD COLORADO ROCKIES FROM 1979 TO 1982.
THE CALDER TROPHY WINNER AS NHL ROOKIE-OF-THE-YEAR IN 1972-73 PAID A VISIT TO THE ACC PRESS BOX (ABOVE). TORONTO NATIVE STEVE VICKERS SCORED 30 GOALS FOR THE RANGERS IN HIS FRESHMAN SEASON AND IS NOW 60 YEARS OF AGE.
THE NFL PLAYOFFS ALSO TOOK CENTRE-STAGE IN THE PRESS BOX – REPORTERS WATCHING ON TV (ABOVE) AS THE SAN FRANCISCO 49ers COMPLETED A LAST-MINUTE DRIVE AT CANDLESTICK PARK TO DEFEAT THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS.
REFEREE CHRIS ROONEY DROPS THE PUCK (ABOVE) BETWEEN DAVID STECKEL AND DEREK STEPAN TO BEGIN THE SECOND PERIOD.
AS AN UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT LAST SUMMER, BIG MIKE RUPP (ABOVE) DREW SOME INTEREST FROM THE LEAFS BEFORE SIGNING WITH THE RANGERS. RUPP OPENED THE SCORING (BELOW) AT 3:35 OF THE MIDDLE FRAME, ONE-TIMIMG A FEED FROM STEPAN PAST JONAS GUSTAVSSON.
COACH JOHN TORTORELLA (ABOVE) HAD LITTLE REASON TO FLASH HIS RENOWNED VOLATILITY, AS NEW YORK BREEZED TO VICTORY.
NAZEM KADRI WAS ONE OF THE FEW LEAFS WITH SPUNK ON THIS NIGHT, OFTEN FINDING HIMSELF IN THE VICINITY OF MARTIN BIRON, AS ABOVE.
GUSTAVSSON HAD A BUSIER NIGHT THAN BIRON, FACING 30 NEW YORK SHOTS, INCLUDING 14 IN THE SECOND PERIOD. THE LEAF GOALIE IS HARRASSED BY RANGERS’ CARL HAGELIN (ABOVE) AND IS PART OF A RUSLAN FEDOTENKO SANDWICH (BELOW), WITH TEAMMATE LUKE SCHENN.
RANGERS’ $12-MILLION MAN BRAD RICHARDS (ABOVE AND BELOW) HAD A QUIET NIGHT, FAILING TO REGISTER A SHOT ON GOAL IN 21:49 OF ICE TIME.
THE DAPPER ONE, HIMSELF, MADE A LIVE APPEARANCE LATE IN THE SECOND PERIOD (ABOVE) TO LAUD OUR TROOPS. NO ONE HAS SPOKEN LOUDER FOR THE CANADIAN MILITARY THAN KINGSTON NATIVE DON CHERRY.
LEAFS DEFENSEMAN CODY FRANSON LIFTS HIS FOOT (ABOVE) AS BRIAN BOYLE’S SHOT ELUDES GUSTAVSSON (PUCK AT EXTREME LEFT, IN NET), PROVIDING NEW YORK A 2-0 LEAD AT 16:28 OF THE SECOND PERIOD, AND TOUCHING OFF A CELEBRATION ALONG THE SIDE-BOARDS (BELOW).
LEAF PLAYERS CODY FRANSON (4), MATT LOMBARDI (15), MIKE KOMISAREK (8), JOEY CRABB (46) AND NAZEM KADRI (43) HUDDLE ABOVE DURING A TV TIME-OUT LATE IN THE MIDDLE FRAME.
A FORMER RANGERS AND LEAFS GOALIE WAS IN THE HOUSE ON SATURDAY, AS GLENN HEALY TOOK HIS USUAL SPOT (ABOVE) BETWEEN THE BENCHES FOR HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA, THOUGH I WOULDN’T BLAME “HEALS” FOR GLANCING TO HIS IMMEDIATE RIGHT NOW AND THEN.
A BIRD’S-EYE VIEW FROM THE ACC PRESS BOX (ABOVE) EARLY IN THE THIRD PERIOD.
JONAS GUSTAVSSON SEEMS TO BE IN NEED OF A PEP-TALK (ABOVE), WHICH DOESN’T FALL UNDER THE JOB DESCRIPTION OF REFEREE GREG KIMMERLY.
FAMOUS HOCKEY NAMES AND A VARIETY OF NHL JERSEYS WERE IN THE GOLD SEATS ON SATURDAY NIGHT (ABOVE).
LEAFS CAME CLOSEST TO SOLVING MARTY BIRON MIDWAY THROUGH THE FINAL PERIOD (ABOVE), AS CODY FRANSON (4) IMPLORES GREG KIMMERLY TO “GO UPSTAIRS” AFTER A SCRAMBLE IN FRONT OF THE RANGERS NET. A TWO-MINUTE VIDEO REVIEW UPHELD THE CALL ON THE ICE: NO GOAL.
LEAFS NEEDED “JUST” A BIT MORE ENERGY ON THIS NIGHT, AS GRIM DETAILS ON THE ACC SCOREBOARD (ABOVE) ATTEST LATE IN THE GAME.
POST-GAME GATHERING WITH CANADIAN FORCES
THE ICE AT THE ACC (ABOVE) WAS LITTERED AFTER THE GAME WITH CANADIAN TROOPS AND THEIR FAMILIES, WHO SPENT A HALF-HOUR WITH LEAF PLAYERS, GETTING AUTOGRAPHS; CHATTING, AND TAKING PHOTOS.
THOUGH DEFEAT WEIGHS HEAVILY ON BRIAN BURKE, THE LEAFS PRESIDENT AND GM SPENT TIME ON THE ICE (ABOVE AND BELOW) GREETING THE SOLDIERS AND THEIR FAMILIES.
TIM CONNOLLY SIGNS AUTOGRAPH (ABOVE).
DARRYL BOYCE (ABOVE) SEEMS TO BE HAVING A WHALE OF A TIME CHATTING WITH TROOPS DURING THE POST-GAME GET-TOGETHER.
KEITH AULIE MAKES A NEW FRIEND (ABOVE) WHILE DAVID STECKEL IS LOST IN A SEA OF AUTOGRAPH HUNTERS (BELOW).
POTENTIALLY SET TO RETURN FROM A SHOULDER INJURY ON TUESDAY NIGHT AGAINST OTTAWA – ACCORDING TO COACH RON WILSON – LEAFS CENTRE TYLER BOZAK SIGNS A JERSEY (ABOVE) ON THE ACC ICE. CARL GUNNARSSON AND KEITH AULIE POSE FOR A PHOTO (BELOW).