Leafs nearly blow it, twice

Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer makes a save against Senators forward Erik Condra at the Air...

Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer makes a save against Senators forward Erik Condra at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Oct. 8, 2011. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:48 AM ET

TORONTO - Had his team blown a four-goal third-period lead to the Ottawa Senators, Ron Wilson might have needed some military protection when his Maple Leafs go to CFB Trenton next week.

Toronto had to absorb a battlefield lesson on Saturday, when it let the wounded pride of the Ottawa Senators carry the play in the final 20 minutes. What could have been a laugher and the Leafs’ first back-to-back season opening shutouts in 81 years, became a pell mell retreat at times.

The Sens twice came within a goal of tying it, a matter of inches in fact, until Phil Kessel not only completed his first hat trick as a Leaf, but killed precious seconds on the forecheck behind the Ottawa net.

The Leafs can now proceed with their bonding trip to the base with a 2-0 mark against division foes Montreal and Ottawa, but there had better not be any swelled heads.

“I was kind of hoping ‘this is all a (bad) dream’ and we’ll wake up pretty soon,” goaltender James Reimer said of giving up four goals with less than nine minutes to go in the third. “I can only speak for myself, I have to mix a save in there at some point. But a win’s a win, it wasn’t pretty but the fans’ got their money’s worth.”

In fact the 19,324 at the Air Canada Centre mostly stayed in the Leafs’ corner even when the gap was shrunk to a goal. They flipped their lids for Kessel’s third goal and had been chanting Dion Phaneuf’s name for his crushing — but legal — shoulder hit on Stephane Da Costa in the second period. But not until Philippe Dupuis made a diving poke check on a point shot in the final seconds could coach Wilson relax.

“After we didn’t score on our last 5-on-3, we didn’t even realize (Daniel Alfredsson) was coming out of the box,” Wilson said. “They gathered some momentum from that and we took a couple of penalties (ending a nine-for-nine penalty kill). We had a horrific shift after (Kessel’s third career hat trick) made it 6-4.

“But we found a way. Phil did an outstanding job (pinning the Sens) at the end. Everybody would be questioning my sanity having him out at the end, but we rewarded him for three goals and he worked hard all night. He showed a lot of determination and that’s good for his confidence.”

Toronto also needed a rare goal from Colton Orr to help sustain the two points.

Ottawa is beginning its major youth kick season and had been thrashed in the early stages Friday in Detroit. Early on, the Leafs top two lines, still missing a couple of big pieces, went to town at goalie Craig Anderson’s expense. They provided the bulk of scoring and Kessel had two of the four goals, with linemate Joffrey Lupul adding one and Mikhail Grabovski starting the engine on the power play in the first period. Phaneuf then rammed Da Costa amid a couple of fights and it looked like this edition of the Battle of Ontario would be a hometown crowd pleaser. But these interprovincial games rarely follow the usual scripts.

“We got too comfortable,” Kessel said. “That’s not the way we want to play.”

Despite a 2-0 lead in the second period, the building was still too quiet, not quite convinced the Leafs had this one in hand. Until Da Costa, one of the many new Sens, went over the Leafs blue line without watching for Phaneuf. The bone-rattling check sent a couple of Da Costa’s teammates after Phaneuf. It also prompted Chris Neil to punch out Luke Schenn a few moments later. But all that the instigator call on Neil did was give Toronto its second power play goal.

Phaneuf picked up his third point on as many Toronto goals when Grabovski opened the scoring, while his defensive partner Carl Gunnarsson helped kick-start Kessel’s hat trick.

John-Michael Liles had his first point as a Leaf on Lupul’s goal, the latter getting a stick on a bouncing puck that Anderson had no chance on. Beaten five times the night before, Anderson was relieved in the third by Alex Auld.

By the time Saturday rolls around the suspended Clarke MacArthur will bump Matt Fratton from Grabovski’s left wing and $9.5 million centre Tim Connolly could be healthy enough to replace Tyler Bozak with Kessel and Lupul.

“The way we played with guys being out, I think is great,” Phaneuf said. “Guys have to step up and we have had that. It shows a lot about the depth that we have for guys coming in and doing a job.”

The Leafs don’t play again until Saturday at home against Calgary and hope to use the three-day respite in Trenton to experience an extended road trip environment they won’t get for real until late October. Forces personnel will be helping with some team-building exercises and the Leafs will be practising at the RCAF Flyers rink on the base. Now they’ll have something to work on.


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