Leafs look beat up, but that's a good thing

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:45 PM ET


 OTTAWA -- The right kind of anger and intensity has emerged after just two games in the Battle of Ontario.

 Not bets between mayors.

 Not foolish songs on radio.

 Not complaints about television bias.

 This is good old-fashioned playoff nastiness. You can see the effects of it under both of Darcy Tucker's eyes.

 MARKOV'S MUG

 One shiner on one side, a pair of shiners on the other.

 A facial scorecard after just one game played since returning from injury.

 Historically, the worse the faces of the Maple Leafs look, the better they have performed in the post-season. Remember Danny Markov's messed up visage of years ago? Remember the road marks that traced across the lovely puss of Dmitry Yushkevich?

 Every year Tucker looks like this -- although usually it takes more than a game -- and Gary Roberts looks like this and there are gashes on Mats Sundin's face, and the more scratched and clawed the players look, the more they grow together, the better they have, at times, performed.

 On Saturday night, in a playoff season that across the NHL hasn't stood up to the usual high Stanley Cup standards, the Leafs and Ottawa Senators took turns running at each other. Sometimes clean. Sometimes not. Almost always with remarkable vigour.

 Vaclav Varada, who or may not be the dirtiest player who ever lived depending on who is doing the accusing, might have gone after Sundin's knees in Game 2. Or so it looked to the untrained eye.

 The Leafs have screamed loudly about Varada's targeting of Sundin's lower body -- because Lord knows, we can't have a lower body injury -- and yet these are the same Leafs who are happy to employ Bryan Marchment, who has set an historical standard for cheap shots that few will ever match.

 No matter who is accusing whom of what, this much is clear after two games of the series: The Leafs can't play any other way and be successful.

 They have to punish and be punished. They have to play with a kind of physical edge that wears down the Ottawa defence, one forecheck at a time.

 That is their playoff game.

 These are their playoff faces.

 And what's also evident after six periods -- these aren't the Ottawa Senators of old.

 They won't run and hide from hitting. They take it and hit back. Which means the Leafs can't let down for any period -- and if they do they are playing into the hands of their speedier opponents.

 In Game 2 on Saturday night, it wasn't only the usual suspects who were throwing their weight around.

 Yes, Gary Roberts hit people. Yes, Tie Domi clobbered Marian Hossa with a clean rocket bodycheck. Yes, Tucker, playing in not precise game shape, did the Tucker thing when he had to.

 That, you expect.

 But others stepped up surprisingly.

 Sundin, who can be physical, was hitting with an unusual ferocity in Game 2. Alexander Mogilny, hiding in Game 1, finally showed a little life. Ron Francis, who plays the game at a different speed than do the Senators, raced into a corner to finish a check or two. And although it was penalized as roughing, there was Tom Fitzgerald of all people, fighting at the end of the game.

 Unfortunately, this is where the absence of Owen Nolan hurts the Leafs so badly.

 Not only is Nolan's absence from the penalty-killing unit noted, but he brings a physical presence and speed that can't be replaced by waiver wire pickup Chad Kilger.

 AGGRESSION

 The physical leader, as he has always been, is Roberts with the diminutive Tucker a step and a few bruises behind.

 They have set the tone of aggression for the Leafs.

 They have to find a way to win the series while looking like they've been beaten up in the process.


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