Game 2: Things are definitely looking up
This is what happened last night. Minute after minute, the Leafs stormed the offensive zone, buzzed around the Ottawa net like killer bees, forechecked with kamikaze abandon, created turnovers, jumped on rebounds and pummeled their provincial rivals with unrelenting intensity.
If this had been a boxing match, the referee would have called the fight at 2:44 in the third, just after the home team staggered their opponents with a fourth consecutive goal.
The latest skirmish in the Battle of Ontario was a massacre: The Leafs outscored the Sens 5-1. They outshot them 38-18. They outhit them 37-30. They shut down all four of Ottawa’s extra-man chances. They planted their first power play goal of the season and could have potted another half-dozen.
Nikolai Kulemin, Phil Kessel, Clarke MacArthur, Kris Versteeg and Tim Brent scored in that order. The offensive threat, spread out across three periods, came from three lines. It was one of those nights in which nothing went wrong and a million small things paid big dividends.
The game seemed to take place entirely in the Ottawa end. J.S. Giguere, who recorded his second win of the season, probably wished he had brought his iPod on the ice to help break up the monotony.
By sharp contrast, it was hard not to pity Ottawa goalie Pascal Leclaire. Playing his second game in as many nights, and coming off a 2-1 loss to Buffalo in which he was pepper-sprayed with 36 shots, the poor bastard was left to fend for himself as the Leafs launched wave after wave of rolling attack.
At 5:39 of the third, Leclaire looked shell-shocked.
Tim Brent had just celebrated his second goal of the season. But before this one would count, the play went upstairs for review. For the next seven minutes – that video review was longer than a Lady Gaga video – off-ice officials scrutinized the tape. As AC/DC thumped from the ACC speakers, as fans entered a state of suspended jubilation and the moustache belonging to referee Bill McCreary turned three new shades of grey, Leclaire barely moved from his crease.
He looked like he wanted to go home. And who could blame him? The team in front of him, which had only managed 2 shots halfway through the first, had already left.
The Leafs, to a man, sported one expression last night.
Waiting for the video call, Brent joked with his teammates and beamed. After Versteeg's goal, Tomas Kaberle patted him on the head and laughed. On the bench, the ear-to-ear grinning was epidemic. After dropping Matt Carkner in a fight at 8:59 of the third – their fifth scrap in two seasons – even Colton Orr couldn't stop smiling as he skated to the box. (What was Carkner yapping about for most of the next five minutes? After the game, standing in a sleeveless T-shirt, his bulging arms covered with labyrinthine tattoos, Orr would only say his sparring partner was "just talking" to "set up the next one.")
You know it's a good night when the biggest debate on the radio call-in shows is the 3 Stars. Or to quote the first five words out of Ron Wilson's mouth during his post-game remarks: "It was fun to watch."
The coach wasn't smiling but he came awfully close.
Critics of this new-look Leafs team, who keep saying "the team is only better on paper," must be rather baffled by last night's game. Yes, Ottawa looked drained from the get-go. And, yes, it's tough to play back-to-back games in early October.
But the Leafs were so busy kicking the Sens in the face, they never gave them a chance to find their legs. This was a brutally decisive victory and, perhaps, the start of something special in this young season.
PHOTO: MARK BLINCH/REUTERS