Game 1: Winning is winning
The Leafs are in first place! The Leafs are undefeated!
Just kidding, Ron Wilson. Please don't get angry.
Yes, it was just One Game. And, yes, in the grand scheme of 82 games, it does Not Mean Anything. But let's not forget, it took the Leafs nine tries last season to do what they did on opening night 2010: Win.
Was it a spectacular victory? No. Was it decisive? No. Was the game a work of art? No.
But as Vin Diesel says in The Fast and The Furious: "Winning is winning."
After so much build-up, after so much chatter about this rebuilt team, the Leafs started the game looking like toddlers on a sugar high. On the bench, they rocked back and forth, anxious to get on the ice. On the ice, they darted around, chasing the puck like a pack of hunting dogs.
The first goal is always important. But when the weight of a disastrous season is on your shoulders and high expectations are tethered to your neck, the first goal is as crucial as oxygen.
Tim Brent, who starred at training camp in the role of Cinderella, took care of this crucial business. At 6:42 of the first, he deflected a shot from Dion Phaneuf, who got the only official assist. (Give Colton Orr an unofficial assist for creating the turnover with a monstrous check that made Tomas Plekanec panic.)
As Phil Kessel goes, so shall the Leafs this season.
And Thursday night, Kessel was going at MACH-4. His puck control is astonishing, even when he's spinning like a top or moving backwards. And about two minutes after Brent triggered a mass exhale inside the ACC, Kessel gobbled up the puck at the blue line and rocketed toward the net with a clear mission.
He deked. The puck seemed to vanish for 2 steamboats. But then it slipped past Montreal goalie Carey Price, who may have accidentally swallowed pills that cause drowsiness to deal with a recent bout of the flu.
Anyway, it was 2-0 Leafs.
When Montreal's Dustin Boyd scored at 12:19, to cut the Leafs lead in half, you could feel anxiety creep into the building. But that was mostly in the stands, where Leaf fans are conditioned to watch games with grimacing smiles, always expecting the worst.
On the bench, it was calm and rather business-like.
The second period was an exercise in psychological exhaustion. The Leafs, having crashed from their sugar high, didn't create many chances or even moments of sustained pressure.
They did take three penalties, including one for too many men on the ice. Last year, statistically speaking, these three penalties would have translated into 1.4866 Montreal goals. But last night, the penalty killers were killing penalties instead of tickling them.
Early in the third, Clarke MacArthur gave the Leafs a 3-1 lead on a nifty move that seemed to surprise everybody, including Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, who got the assists. After Montreal's Jeff Halpern scored less than a minute later, it was time for the overarching storyline: J.S. Giguere exorcises the ghost of Vesa Toskala.
Jiggy closed the door for the next 17 minutes. Then in the last minute, he slammed the door. Really loudly. Twice. And when the final buzzer sounded, when citizens inside Leafs Nation pumped their fists and high-fived each other, the score was 3-2.
So the Leafs awake this morning with their first win. More important, as they look ahead to Game 2 at home against Ottawa tomorrow, they can take comfort in a small but not insignificant development: They are ahead of where they were a year ago.
PHOTO: RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR