Well, judging by all the talk on sports radio today, you would have thought the Toronto Maple Leafs were icing a peewee team to tangle with the defending Stanley Cup Champions tonight in Detroit.
But after sixty hard-fought minutes, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally got what they deserved:
After a few weeks of trying to clamp down leads late in games, they finally figured it out.
No late-game collapse this time, as the Leafs played a hard, tight-checking system for a full sixty minutes, resulting in a 3-2 upset of the Detroit Red Wings.
Yeah, I know. It's only one game. And I will agree, the Wings were not their sharpest tonight, But if this is the type of game the Maple Leafs are going play for the entire year, they should at the very least be an exciting group to watch.
The question now becomes: Can they sustain this level of play throughout an 82-game grind?
There was a torrid start to start the game, as the Leafs and Wings burned through the first period with end-to-end rushes. Pavel Kubina grabbed the first goal of the game late in the first on a bit of a Chris Osgood miscue. Kubina was the recipient of the goalie's giveaway, which he snuck into the back of the net. Toronto carried a 1-0 lead into the dressing room after twenty.
The Maple Leafs opened up a two-goal lead at 15:04 of the second period, when the hard-working Dominic Moore scooped up a loose puck and roofed it over a prone Osgood. It was Moore's first of the year.
Just over a minute later, Tomas Holmstrom scored from his office—the front of the net—to cut the Leafs lead to one, and surely there were some in Leafs Nation with a bit of a sinking feeling.
7:25 into the third period, Nikolai Kulemin connected on his first-ever NHL goal, a quick wrist shot on a breakaway that beat Osgood.
Holmstrom again spoiled the party, just under two minutes after Kulemin's tally. Holmstrom scored from the front of the net again, once again, cutting the Leafs lead to one goal.
What ensued was a tense final half period for Leafs Nation. It was a period in which Toronto tried to lock down the game with a 1-4 trap, and strong forechecking.
They were rewarded for their efforts, as they were through most of the night, using a strong forecheck to create turnovers and chances on goal.
The Red Wings had a late power play, but couldn't cash, in as Vesa Toskala came up large for the Maple Leafs, making two of his 35 saves.
Shots On Goal
Chris Osgood: 26 saves
Vesa Toskala: 35
CBC Three Stars
- Vesa Toskala
- Tomas Holmstrom
- Dominic Moore
Derek's Game Notes
It was so refreshing to see the Maple Leafs so organized out there as a five-man unit. Everyone seemed to know where they were supposed to be, knew their assignments, and there were not a whole lot of mistakes. Like I said above—if this team can continue to play this style all year, they should be an entertaining group to watch, and be very tough to play against.
Also nice to see them skating with the Stanley Cup champs, and matching them stride for stride. On paper, it looks like the Wings should run them into the ground—but the Maple Leafs were a determined group tonight, and matched the Wings in speed and hitting.
Anyone who is a loyal reader of mine knows I have some crazy man-love for Dominic Moore, and it doesn't look like it's going to go away if he keeps this up. Moore had a very solid night tonight—amazing what ice time and a bid of confidence can do for a young guy. He was a strong checker tonight and used his speed to create a lot of chances. He was also key in keeping the puck deep late in the game to eat the time off the clock.
Alex Steen was just a beast behind the goal tonight. There were several times tonight when Steen used the down-low cycle play to a tee and ate up time, kept the flow going, and was able to make plays to create chances.
Luke Schenn played solid as well tonight. Nothing-jaw dropping, which really isn't his style anyway. But Ron Wilson did what he said he would. He stuck Schenn (and other young guys) out there against the best the Red Wings had to offer. Schenn didn't break and looked calm out there for the most part. He had some trouble with Holmstrom on the second goal, but what NHL defenseman hasn't had problems with the big Swede?
Toskala was on his game tonight. He's a fantastic keeper, but it seemed early on last year he started slowly. Almost as though he was guessing. Not tonight. Toskala was sharp, consistently square to the shooter, and made the key saves at the key times for the Leafs tonight.
Tlusty, Kulemin, and Hagman were a force tonight, displaying a tenacious forecheck with speed that burned. They created turnovers all night—one of which led to the Kulemin goal in the third.
Mitchell didn't look out of place tonight either. He played just over nine minutes and didn't do anything great—but he also didn't make any mistakes.
The defense played a solid game tonight. Frogren and Kubina seem to be a pretty good fit for Wilson's new system, and responded with a strong game. Kaberle, Van Ryn, and Colaiacovo weren't as good—but again, they didn't make many mistakes. Overall, a solid effort from the back end.
So that's it from here. The Maple Leafs come away from their season opener with a 3-2 win over Original-Six rivals Detroit.
A decent game for both teams overall. As I said, Detroit wasn't as sharp as we have seen before, but the pace of play still made for one hell of a hockey game.
Next up for the Maple Leafs is Saturday night's home opener against the rival Montreal Canadiens.