Chance at Redemption: Maple Leafs Back in Boston Looking for Different Result

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IDecember 10, 2009

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 23:  Matt Stajan #14, Tomas Kaberle #15 and Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate goal against he New York Islanders during game action November 23, 2009 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

On Saturday, December 7 the Toronto Maple Leafs came storming into Boston playing some of their best hockey of the season to face the Bruins. The Leafs had won two games in a row, and four of their last five, and the confidence was palpable around the team.

It was also Phil Kessel's first game back in the town where he made his name as an NHL sniper; in case you hadn't heard.

But the night did not end the way they were hoping as they got blown out of the city losing 7-2 in one of the most pathetic games for the Leafs this young season. Marc Savard ripped the team apart, scoring three goals and making Toronto forget all about their great play prior to the beat down.

Thursday night the Leafs return to Boston, less than a week later and under extremely similar circumstances, but hoping for a completely different outcome.

Once again they come into Boston riding a two-game winning streak, having won four of their last five, and brimming with confidence after playing their best hockey so far this season.

They're coming off a character win against the New York Islanders at home Wednesday night, where the team gave up an early 2-0 lead, only to have Jason Blake score late in the third and hold on for the lead.

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Early on in the season if the Leafs gave up a 2-0 lead, which they rarely had anyway, it was almost a guarantee that they would fold and crumble under the pressure. That was the way the team was then; playing nervous and unstable while unable to fight back when dealing with adversity.

This team looks to be different now. They are showing they have learned from their early mistakes and corrected many of the weak aspects of their game.

But it's back to Boston for another huge test to see how far the Leafs have really come.

Saturday night the team came in with all the confidence in the world and were easily crushed by the big bad Bruins. Thursday night could be a different story even though the circumstances are eerily similar.

First of all, a team is rarely blown out two games in a row by the same team, so the Leafs can hope that holds true at the very least. But where the Leafs may have the upper hand this time around is having Phil Kessel not playing his first game back in the city he once called home.

The first time around, he was nervous; you could tell just by the look on his face during the pregame interviews. He knew he was going to get booed by the fans that just last year were chanting his name on every one of his 36 goals. He knew that he had to come in and play his best game of the season to prove to his old running mates that they lost a great player.

That didn't happen because that's all Kessel was thinking about throughout the game.

Coach Ron Wilson said that after the loss the former Bruin was "a wreck", for obvious reasons. He went pointless and was a minus three in his much-talked-about return. Talk about disappointment.

But for Kessel, just a few days later, it will be much easier to come in and play the game he is used to playing without worrying about all the talk. The pressure of an entire nation watching his every move on Hockey Night in Canada won't be there.

Oh you can bet he'll be booed just as loud the second time around, but it will be under totally different circumstances. And Kessel knows it.

The goaltending situation for the Leafs should be much different as well. Vesa Toskala, who played his best game of the season Wednesday night, could and should get the start once again. Riding the hot goalie has been a theme for the team this season, and if they continue that trend, Toskala will have an excellent chance at stealing the game for a second consecutive night.

The Leafs return to the scene of the crime that took place just five nights ago, with a chance at redemption after receiving as swift a beating as they've had.

And while the setting coming into the game may be the same, the Leafs hope the outcome will be much, much different.