Enigmatic Mogilny still puzzling

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:12 PM ET


 The faces of Alexander Mogilny are many but the one that rarely has been witnessed is that of overt leader.

 He can dance and he can dazzle and he can mesmerize -- he remains the brightest of the Maple Leafs in so many different ways -- but there he was on a desperate night of Toronto hockey doing damage with more than his soft hands.

 Leading the Leafs like he rarely has led before.

 Being anything but the reticent star he too often tries to portray himself as at a time when the Leafs needed him most.

 Understanding Mogilny isn't easy because he doesn't want you to understand him. He doesn't want you to know him. He doesn't want you to figure him out -- because if you do, someone else might -- and that would blow his cover.

 In this hockey-crazed market, he would like nothing better than to do his job and fade into the background, and let Mats Sundin and Gary Roberts and Tie Domi face the microphones and the cameras.

 But last night he couldn't hide. On the ice or off. Last night, another Alexander Mogilny appeared for the Leafs. A physical Mogilny. A punishing Mogilny. A Russian finishing his checks. A player who got hurt, and hurt the Flyers back, and scored a huge first goal on a breakaway and left little of himself behind.

 The captain last night on a team full of captains.

 "Very impressive," said a smiling and still injured Joe Nieuwendyk after the Leafs 4-1 win which officially makes this a playoff series. "I thought he played very determined.

 'Sometimes you need to play out of character and I think Almo led the way in that department."

 It started early last night, first with Magnus Ragnarsson hurting Mogilny with a first-period check and Mogilny punishing the Flyers defenceman back just a few minutes later. Normally, Mogilny punishment comes with a juke, a move, a pass that seems impossible, but last night he sent Ragnarsson limping off with a big hit and another that had Danny Markov wondering if he had ever been in this building before.

 "I've never seen him be that physical," Nieuwendyk said. "I know he is a proud guy who wants to win real bad."

 You just can't always read it. And you just can't always read him. Earlier in the playoffs, there were doubts about Mogilny's health, doubts about him playing too much on the periphery, doubts about him trying to be too cute without getting dirty. Doubts from the inside and the outside.

 He got dirty last night. Down and dirty. The kind of hockey he's going to have to play for the Leafs to have any hope.

 "When Alex is loose and sarcastic, he's a game breaker for us," said Domi, who for once didn't have to be one of the Leafs best forwards. "It's nice to see him play with emotion."

 It provides a belief that wasn't evident a day ago, the kind of belief that the Leafs can still make this a series to remember. A season to remember. They still have to win three of the next four. That still seems a long shot.

 There aren't going to be any free passes in this series.

 But at least they have their first victory and a newfound bounce especially in the 35-year-old hips of Mogilny.

 "It's big," he said of the Game 3 victory. "What do you think? We come home down two nothing. We lose this game, it's pretty much over."

 He was smiling as he spoke, smiling with the lights on, enjoying the moment. Another side of the confusing and confounding Alexander Mogilny waiting to be defined.


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