Game 30: The Sweet Face of Revenge
With a few minutes left in tonight's flawless 4-1 victory over Edmonton, I removed my glasses for a quick lens clean. But before returning them to my face, I held them up and said: "Thank you for correcting my vision and letting me see this game. I needed this."
Did we just witness the Leafs best road game this season? It sure felt that way. Did we just enjoy 60 minutes of sweet revenge after that humiliating 5-0 loss earlier this month? No doubt.
The Leafs started the game with more bounce than a trampoline artist on Red Bull. They skated at speeds not permitted on the Autobahn. They controlled the play the way Kate Gosselin once controlled Jon.
As soon as the puck dropped, as soon as the glorious chants of "Go Leafs Go" ricocheted inside Rexall Place, the Leafs had a look in their eyes that said: "We didn't come to Oil Country to screw around. Not tonight."
And screw around they did not:
* Captain Dion Phaneuf, playing in his hometown, blasted a howitzer from the point for his first goal of the season.
* Mikhail Grabovski re-directed a gorgeous slap-pass from noted pugilist Clarke MacArthur for the winning goal.
* Kris Versteeg got credit for a goal Jason Strudwick helpfully scored on his own net.
* Phil Kessel dropped to one-knee and one-timed an airborne feed from Versteeg. Kessel also played his best two-way game as a Leaf. While shorthanded in the second, he backchecked in a way I've never seen him do. He was up-and-down the ice on a mission. He was aces.
* The Leafs were 2-5 on the power play.
* The penalty killers defused all four Oiler chances.
* Even the new cheerleaders looked vaguely depressed.
But as sweet as all of this was, and it was really sweet, there was a moment in this game that was even sweeter. It was one of those moments that bonds a team.
It's now past 1:30 a.m. in Toronto. I don't know the whereabouts of one Zack Stortini. But if I had to guess, I'd say sprawled and groaning on a La-Z-Boy recliner with a pack of frozen peas draped across his swollen face.
My God, Colton Orr pounded that face as if it was an evil alien life form and the fate of humanity rested with its destruction. And he did this because minutes earlier, Stortini nearly turned Grabovski into a circus midget with a dangerous low-bridge hit on the knees.
Now, look. I know people don't like fighting. On rare occasions, when my wife catches a few minutes of a game with me, her reaction to any fisticuffs is always the same: "How can you watch this? They're hitting each other! This is barbaric!"
Ignore her. For tonight, just ignore her.
Instead, let's simply give Mr. Orr a lot of credit for doing the right thing at the right time. He didn't fight Stortini in the first, when the Oiler tough guy wanted to go. And he didn't tangle with Steve MacIntyre in the third, when he also seemed interested in a pointless dance.
But when it mattered, when something needed to be done, he did it and he did it well. In fact, that fight was highly symbolic of the entire Leafs team this evening: Smart, ferocious, determined and blessed with perfect timing.
So these magnificent Leaf bastards now decamp to Calgary for The Return of Dion. If tonight is any indication, it promises to be a game to remember.
MAIN PHOTO: DAN RIEDLHUBER/REUTERS