By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Dec. 17) — It is almost scary how the Maple Leafs are hording wins right now. Not necessarily performing commensurate to their results but still piling up points in the Eastern Conference — currency that will come in handy as the season progresses.
Leafs have been pounding the opposition on the scoreboard, compiling a 51–27 edge in goals during their 10–1–1 hot streak — a 12–game span that ranks with any in team history. For the second consecutive season, Anaheim has visited the Air Canada Centre at or near the top of the overall standings only to leave town humbled. Last year it was 4–2. This year, even worse: 6–2 on Tuesday night before a giddy yet somewhat disbelieving throng on Bay St. Killer instinct was evident in the third period when the Maple Leafs out–gunned the Ducks 4–1 to bust open a close game in which goalie Jonathan Bernier again had to be sharp.
Anaheim compiled a 42–27 edge in shots on goal.
WITHOUT QUESTION, MY BEST–EVER PHOTO OF CENTER–ICE AT THE ACC.
But, the standings do not lie. At 19–9–3 for 41 points, the Maple Leafs rank 10th in the National Hockey League, yet only three points removed from first place in the Eastern Conference and third place overall.
As I mentioned: Almost scary.
The Maple Leafs are 9–1 at the ACC since getting slapped around by Nashville on Nov. 18 and they lead the NHL with 14 home–ice victories. The club has also played the most games at home — 21 — completing fully half its regular–season allotment in the victory over Anaheim. This is owing to the World Junior Hockey tournament which dominates the ACC over the Christmas break. As such, Maple Leafs play 17 of their next 21 games on the road, visiting Carolina, Chicago, Dallas, Florida, Tampa Bay, Boston, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, St. Louis, Ottawa, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Nashville and New Jersey (again) between Dec. 18 and Feb. 6. This road slog will largely determine whether the Maple Leafs are for real… or will struggle down the stretch to make the playoffs for only the second time in 10 years.
I attended Tuesday night’s win over Anaheim with my son, Shane, and — of course — with my trusty NIKON:
THE VIEW (TOP–RIGHT) FROM SEC. 307, ROW 14 AT THE ACC.
LEAFS TREVOR SMITH; DUCKS NATE THOMPSON BETWEEN LINESMAN SCOTT DRISCOLL.
MAPLE LEAFS RAN UP THE SCORE AND HAD THEIR MARGIN OF VICTORY (TOP–RIGHT) AFTER DAVID BOOTH’S FIRST GOAL IN A TORONTO JERSEY AT 4:37 OF THE SECOND PERIOD.
ANAHEIM PLAYERS WERE STARING HEAVENWARD FOR MOST OF THE NIGHT.
TIM HORTON BEAT DOUG GILMOUR IN THE VIDEO–BOARD SMILE CONTEST. GILMOUR AND DARRYL SITTLER CONSTANTLY STARE AT ONE ANOTHER IN THE RAFTERS.
LEAFS GAZE AT THE VIDEO–BOARD DURING A TV TIME–OUT.
FANS OF BOTH TEAMS ?? WERE EVIDENT IN THE ACC PEWS.
SCOTT DRISCOLL SET TO DROP PUCK BETWEEN TYLER BOZAK AND RICKARD RAKELL.
IT WAS A JOYOUS EVENING FOR ATTENTIVE LEAF FANS AT THE ACC.
VETERAN ILYA BRYZGALOV — IN HIS SECOND GO–ROUND WITH THE DUCKS — REPLACED STARTER FREDERIK ANDERSEN AFTER DAVID BOOTH AND NAZEM KADRI SCORED 51 SECONDS APART EARLY IN THE THIRD PERIOD TO BUILD A 4–1 LEAD.
THE VISITORS’ FRUSTRATION GREW ?? AS THE SCORE MOUNTED.
LEAFS SAY “SO LONG.” FATHER AND SON AFTER FINAL HORN.
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