Alberta boys lead Leafs over Oilers

Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin can't keep Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski from scoring...

Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin can't keep Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski from scoring at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta on December 14, 2010. (CODIE McLACHLAN/QMI Agency)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:16 AM ET

EDMONTON — One homecoming down, one to go.

For Dion Phaneuf, making his first appearance in a Maple Leafs uniform in his native Edmonton, the evening could not have gone much better on a snowy Tuesday night at Rexall Place.

Opening the scoring at 5:55 of the first period, Phaneuf’s first goal of the season propelled the Maple Leafs to a 4-1 victory over the Oilers, setting the stage for the captain’s return to Calgary on Thursday.

“It has been a while. It felt good,” Phaneuf said of the goal. “The big thing was the screen. (Colby Armstrong) did a great job.

“It was just a huge win for our team.”

But this game was more than just about Phaneuf.

With several thousand blue-and-white clad Toronto fans chanting “Go Leafs Go” for much of the evening, the Leafs “Alberta contingent” gave their friends and family in attendance plenty to cheer about.

There was Phaneuf, of course, who now prepares himself to face his former Flames team for the first time since being traded to Toronto on Jan. 31.

There was Clarke MacArthur, the native of Lloydminster, Alta., who fed Mikhail Grabovski at the tail end of a brilliant give-and-go to put the Leafs up 2-1 at the middle of the second period.

And there was Lethbridge native Kris Versteeg, who scored Toronto’s third goal and assisted on Phil Kessel’s third-period marker to finish off a two-point night.

Obviously, with so many westerners on the Leafs roster, the west is best — at least for one evening.

Not to be forgotten is Leafs goaltender J-S Giguere, who held the Leafs in the game in the first period when the young Oilers attacked them in waves.

For coach Ron Wilson, who has seen his special teams sputter on far too many nights, one of the most pleasant sights must be the two power-play goals his team registered, courtesy of Grabovski and Kessel.

After the game, the Leafs boarded their charter and headed to Calgary, where the prelude to Phaneuf’s highly anticipated return to the Saddledome will be a circus, to be sure.

“It will be a special night,” Phaneuf admitted. “I played a lot of games there.”

Coming into the contest, the Leafs might have been fuelled by some interesting bulletin-board fodder, courtesy of Oilers super rookie Taylor Hall.

Two weeks ago Hall destroyed the Leafs by scoring twice in a 5-0 victory at the Air Canada Centre, the only multi-goal outing to date for the former Windsor Spitfire.

Keeping that in mind, Hall did not mince his words about the Leafs during a meeting with Edmonton reporters a day after a recent 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

“Hopefully we can compete a lot harder. Because (Toronto) is a team that, if we do, it’s there for the taking,” Hall said.

Knowing Hall, it wasn’t meant to be a shot. When asked about it, Wilson said Hall, the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft, didn’t mean it that way.

Behind closed doors, however, it would not be surprising if the Leafs used Hall’s statement as motivation.

Did Hall have any regrets about his words? Were they taken out of context?

“As long as I play, I don’t think I’ll ever be a guy to stir the pot intentionally,” Hall said. “If they put me up on their bulletin board, it’s not something that I tried to do.

“We respect them as a team. I respect them as a team. I just kind of meant to say that if we play our game, any game is there. We kind of control our own destiny. That’s what I meant to say.”

Hall had two breakaways Tuesday night but could not beat Giguere.

“That’s a young guy expressing himself,” Oilers coach Tom Renney said of Hall.

Maybe. But on this night, it was Phaneuf and the rest of the Maple Leafs “Alberta contingent” that would have the final say.


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