Leafs Terrific in Biggest Test

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Feb. 12) – To suggest Monday night’s game against Philadelphia at Air Canada Centre was the Maple Leafs most alluring of the season may appear odd to the multitudes in this city that get a blast out of kicking Montreal around the ice.

Leafs have already done that on two occasions – at the Bell Centre on the first and fourth Saturdays of the truncated schedule. Toronto fans sleep soundly and happily after every such conquest. But, the Leafs early season pattern has been to dominate in foreign rinks and lay ostrich eggs at home. That’s why the 5-2 win over Philadelphia was the boldest statement Leafs have made in their first 13 games. Rarely in recent memory have Leafs pummeled an opponent at the ACC with style and swagger. They did so on Monday.

And, it happened in a situation many teams find difficult – playing at home after an extended and prosperous road trip. Leafs brushed aside Washington, Winnipeg and Montreal last week and it seemed unfortunate that Customs and Immigration allowed them back into the country. It meant Leafs could to play at home once again, and the Air Canada Centre had been a snake-pit early in the season. Alas, the club flourished in front of its devout patrons, rebounding from a grim start to completely overwhelm the Flyers. It was – by any measure – Leafs most compelling and profound triumph on home ice since conquering Detroit, 4-3, on Jan. 7 of last season.

What could this mean to the Blue and White? Well, it clearly tempers the concern that achievement on the road will be offset by stage-fright at home. It doesn’t guarantee, of course, that Leafs will build on such momentum when Ottawa arrives Saturday night; indeed, more than one illustration is required to declare an about-face. Additionally, the Flyers were once again lame between the pipes, as neither Ilya Bryzgalov nor Brian Boucher could stifle the Toronto attack. To the dismay of hockey fans in Philadelphia, such shortfall is the equivalent of Groundhog Day. For eons, the Flyers have been seeking – without resolution – dependability in goal.

EARLY DECEPTION: PHILADELPHIA FLYERS CELEBRATE GOAL BY WAYNE SIMMONDS JUST 38 SECONDS AFTER THE OPENING FACE-OFF. LEAFS WERE THOROUGHLY IN CONTROL MINUTES LATER AND BREEZED TO A 5-2 WIN. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

One can argue, in fact, that Philly has had only three trustworthy netminders in its National Hockey League history, which dates to the 1967-68 season.

Original Flyer Bernie Parent was dealt to the Maple Leafs in 1971 and defected to the World Hockey Association in ’72. But, he returned to Philadelphia in 1973-74 and brilliantly led his club to consecutive Stanley Cup titles. In the early-80’s, Pelle Lindberg – a Swedish-born goalie – rose to prominence and backstopped Flyers to the Cup final in 1985 against Edmonton. Tragically, Lindberg died on Nov. 11 of that year after losing control of his Porsche 930 Turbo in Summerdale, N.J. He was only 26.

Two seasons later, Ron Hextall won the Conn Smythe Trophy in a losing cause after a seven-game championship encounter with Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers. The Flyers have lacked stability in goal since Hextall’s departure in a July 1992 trade with Quebec Nordiques (for the rights to Eric Lindros). Garth Snow excelled in the 1997 playoffs, as Philadelphia went to the Stanley Cup final and lost to Detroit. But, it was fleeting success.

Tempering the victory for the Leafs on Monday was an injury suffered by No. 1 goalie James Reimer in the second period. Reimer twisted his left leg awkwardly in the crease while making an acrobatic save. He was helped off the ice, unable to put weight on the leg. Leafs coach Randy Carlyle would not elaborate on the injury but told reporters Reimer was unlikely to miss a stretch of games. Such hasty proclamation from the Leafs, however, has been largely inaccurate through the years. Ben Scrivens took over from Reimer and was splendid. But, Leafs will undoubtedly miss their No. 1 man if he is sidelined for any length of time. Reimer had been among the most reliable half-dozen goalies in the NHL prior to his injury.   

LEAFS GOALIE JAMES REIMER IS ASSISTED OFF THE ICE BY TEAMMATE JOHN-MICHAEL LILES AFTER SUFFERING AN APPARENT KNEE INJURY IN SECOND PERIOD MONDAY NIGHT. REIMER – PERFORMING SPECTACULARLY FOR THE LEAFS – TWISTED HIS LEFT LEG AWKWARDLY IN THE GOAL-CREASE. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

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