Game 3: The winning continues
Okay, look. I know this can't last forever. Eventually, the Leafs will lose a game. They have to lose a game, right? Right?
But here we are. Three games, three wins, many new reasons to believe.
What's most amazing about the latest victory, 4-3 in Pittsburgh last night, is what did not happen:
* The Leafs did not register 15 shots on net.
* Phil Kessel did not score a goal.
* The Leafs did not keep Sidney Crosby off the score sheet.
* Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg did not get an assist.
* J.S. Giguere did not start.
* Evgeni Malkin did not score on a penalty shot.
* The Leafs did not entirely shut down Pittsburgh's PP.
* The Leafs did not blow a lead.
This team – rebuilt over the past 12 months with an infusion of grit, speed, character and, apparently, a sprinkling of magical pixie dust – is doing the exact opposite of what previous editions used to do.
They are finding ways to win. And everybody is contributing.
Colton Orr, who left the game after his face made contact with Deryk Engelland’s right fist, deflected a shot from Luke Schenn to open the scoring. Then after the Pens bagged two quick ones to close the first, Clarke MacArthur tied the game in the second, one-timing a gorgeous cross-ice pass from Mr. Renaissance, Tomas Kaberle.
At 5:31 of that frame, Francois Beauchemin gave the Leafs a 3-2 lead with a blistering slap shot from the point. Assisting on the goal were Schenn and Mike Zigomanis, the former Penguin who continues to win face-offs so cleanly it looks like he’s lining up against mannequins.
About five minutes later, MacArthur scored his second goal of the game, converting a pass from Mikhail Grabovski, who was backwards and behind the Pittsburgh net.
And just like that, 10 different Leafs – none of whom play on the first line – got their names in the box score. It was, as Brian Burke had envisioned, "scoring by committee."
After a hubbub in Leafs Nation yesterday over Ron Wilson's decision to start Jonas Gustavsson, the young goaltender proved up to the task.
With the exception of Crosby's final-minute goal in the second, in which he wasn't airtight with the left post, The Monster was solid when he had to be, including several clutch saves late in the game when it was all Pittsburgh.
And he was lucky when he didn't have to be.
At 18:03 of the second, Malkin was awarded a penalty shot after he was tripped by a sprawling, sliding Dion Phaneuf. This could have been a pivotal moment for The Monster. But instead of getting tested, he could only watch with disbelief as Malkin gave a textbook demonstration in how not to take a penalty shot.
First, Malkin swooped to the outside, as if he was getting ready to jump over the glass and deke an usher. Then he turned toward the net with the velocity of a sea turtle. As he rolled through the slot like a lump of tumbleweed, he looked up, shot and missed the net by about 114 feet.
Basically, that was that.
Leaf fans, who may still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder when it comes to protecting one-goal leads in the third, likely watched the final 20 minutes with one eye closed and a bottle of antacid at the ready.
But there was no need to panic because the Leafs did not panic. Instead, as the Penguins pinched and pressed, the Leafs seemed to slip into some kind of bizarre Zen state, hanging on for dear life with no real sense of imminent danger.
This team believes in itself and, after only three games, it shows. This team looks like the kind of team we're going to fondly remember years from now.
Me, I spent most of the third period on my feet, getting ready to toss my baseball cap at the TV in the event of another MacArthur goal. I applauded the team's work ethic, speed, passing, hitting and ability to steal pucks with the stealthy skill of veteran pickpockets in a tourist area.
And when the final buzzer sounded, I sat down and thought: This season is going to be a lot of fun.
PHOTO: GENE J. PUSKAR/ASSOCIATED PRESS