Maple Leafs Turn Corner in Raleigh on The Way To The Cup

Graeme BoyceCorrespondent INovember 6, 2009

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 30:  Goalie Jonas Gustavsson #50 of the Toronto Maple Leafs stops the puck against the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena on October 30, 2009 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Throughout this recent string of games, the Maples Leafs defense corps has solidified.  They block shots, especially Finger, they hit, especially Komiserak, and they get to loose pucks faster than the opposition, again and again.  Now they're moving the puck out of their own end quite effectively, though admittedly still making mistakes, while enabling our Kaberle to continue his incredible and award-winning scoring pace.

Now once in the opposing zone, they even rush the net, cause some mayhem and know that the forwards are covering them.  In fact, when caught behind, speed is a key factor in the team's recent successes, as well as a lucky bounce here and there.  The team is becoming wonderfully threatening, though not overtly rough.  But they really are performing well together, and improving.  

The Hurricanes were finally eliminated by Pittsburgh in the playoffs last year.  Paul Maurice is a good coach.  He still brings a good team, yet Toronto simply could not have lost to them, given fight for last place was on, and so the obvious test is Detroit.  Coming soon: Saturday night, and another Original Six game.

Speaking of the forwards, and speaking of Detroit, last season the Leafs started with a win in Detroit, 2-1, and what was mentioned at that time by Coach Wilson was their collective speed.  Not much has been mentioned this season about their speed upfront, until the arrival of young Kessel. 

What we the fans should notice is the room off the boards Leafs forwards enjoy, as our guys are coming out of the corners with pucks, and making plays.  Surely you agree young John Mitchell is displaying some impressive flash around the net lately.  He seems better paired with Kessel.

Anyway, most importantly, they are a winning team today.  Oh yes, his name is Gustavsson.  Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson.  Solid as a rock.  Apparently, he's making some mistakes too, courtesy of a few monstrous rebounds.  The addition of juice upfront in Kessel seems to have revitalized veteran Blake, though Stajan was possibly benched for the latter part of the Carolina game.

The pressure is off Schenn to produce offensively, despite the obvious promise he displayed upfront last season.  However, he's not been erasing many opposing skaters, though he has been solid too.  But I thought he'd have a few more assists by now. Team trainers and coaches are likely working very closely together to manage and monitor his professional development carefully.

One day I'd like to once again say the Leafs enjoy a player on the blue line with a booming shot, joining the ranks of legendary Al Iafrate and Ian Turnbull.  (Five goals in one game, by a Maple Leafs defensemen.  Yes, I'd like to see that again.)  I'm still waiting for Beauchemin to start lighting it up.  I thought he'd have popped in a few more by now.

Though, surprisingly, Stempniak continues to impress me.  It looks like he has taken ice time on the power play away from Beauchemin in fact.

So, and with victory moments away in Carolina, it was an oh-so-familiar feeling that came over me - and all Leafs fans - when Beauchemin, who was having a great night, chopped away at opposing skates with less the half a minute remaining to get the penalty. 

I relied on Gustavsson to save the day.  I'm sure his teammates shared similar thoughts.  But everyone cooly played their part and the day was saved.  It was cool.  Indeed, it was gratifying.  Carolina could have stomped Toronto, and we would've heard how Carolina had turned their season around with their win, bringing the playoff contending team back to life in the process. 

But ... Toronto won.  Toronto won.  The tide has turned.  Bring on the Wings.