RALEIGH — This is the Dion Phaneuf that Maple Leafs management has been waiting for.
This is the Dion Phaneuf general manager Brian Burke envisioned as the dominant blue liner who excelled with the Calgary Flames in his first two NHL seasons.
This is the Dion Phaneuf who, despite the objections of observers who thought there were more deserving candidates, was awarded the coveted captain’s C last summer.
On a night when the spotlight looked to be shining on recent callups Nazem Kadri and Matt Lashoff, it was Phaneuf who stole the show, scoring twice and adding an assist en route to a 3-1 Toronto victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center on Wednesday night.
The victory pulled the Leafs to within four points of the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres in the logjammed Eastern Conference playoff race. The Sabres have 76 points, the Canes have 74 and the Leafs are at 72, keeping their post-season aspirations alive.
Toronto will try to eat into that gap even further when they face off against the lowly Florida Panthers on Thursday night in south Florida.
One of the reasons Lashoff was called up was to boost a power play that entered the game in a 1-for-32 funk. They snapped out of it with a pair of power play goals but, with apologies to Lashoff, it was Phaneuf who was the catalyst, scoring both.
“We just tried to get traffic in front of the net and it worked,” Phaneuf said.
Heading into the game, Toronto defencemen had scored just once with the man advantage all season. So much for that slump.
Phaneuf has now collected five goals in his past nine games, showing the type of offensive flair the Leafs brass has been waiting for.
After Phaneuf had put Toronto up 2-1 midway through the second period, Tyler Bozak scored 12 seconds later to give the Leafs a two-goal cushion.
The Leafs were also buoyed by goalie James Reimer, who was outstanding in the victory. Coach Ron Wilson had hinted that J-S Giguere might get the call but made the proper decision by giving Reimer his 13th consecutive start.
“We played a great game all round. We needed this and we responded,” Reimer said.
On this night, the Phaneuf-Reimer combo proved to be the perfect winning recipe.
Defenceman Mike Komisarek left the game with a lower-body injury. Coach Ron Wilson said he’s day to day.