Down early, Leafs fight back

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

Gary Roberts' eyes grew as big as a pair of pumpkins.

Here he was, in the first minute of his emotional return to the Air Canada Centre, and the puck was trickling in front of him like a juicy Halloween treat.

With his family gleefully watching from Tie Domi's private box, Roberts gobbled up the early gift and flicked it high past Maple Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour to give the Florida Panthers a 1-0 lead.

Just 26 seconds into the game and Roberts already was haunting his former team.

"I didn't know it was Robs," Belfour said later. "It was a chip shot. Thankfully we stuck with it."

Rather than collapse at their early bout of adversity, the Leafs would rebound on goals by Darcy Tucker and Alexei Ponikarovsky to win the game 2-1, primarily thanks to Belfour.

But the real story on this night would be Roberts, who showed the 19,143 in attendance the type of grit and determination that was his trademark during his four-year stint in blue and white.

"I guess I got a lucky bounce on the goal," said Roberts, who registered his first regular-season point as a Panther on the play. "It seemed to bounce on (Bryan McCabe) and I managed to take advantage."

As the goal was announced to the shocked crowd, the mention of Roberts' name drew a round of applause mixed with a few boos.

"That's the type of stuff I appreciate," Roberts said of the cheers. "It was an emotional decision to leave Toronto. I knew I had to leave to work somewhere for market value.

"It definitely was an emotional night. I'm glad it's over, although I'm not glad we lost."

Roberts did everything he could to change the outcome.

After scoring on the first shift of the game, he stepped on to the ice for his second shift and immediately wallpapered Jeff O'Neill into the boards.

O'Neill, Roberts' buddy dating back to their days with the Carolina Hurricanes, was shaken up and skated gingerly to the bench, although he did return.

"He turned me into a Crunchie there but that's the way he plays," O'Neill said. "I would have done the same to him."

Also on the Roberts' agenda were a number of scrums with Belfour at the edge of the Leafs crease.

"He's always tough in front of the net," Belfour said. "He's always scrambling, chopping, and seems to get his stick on the close ones. I tried to do whatever I could to irritate him, like giving him shots to the ribs."

The Panthers took a shot to the gut at 9:43 of the third period.That's when Ponikarovsky's harmless-looking wrister from the top of the faceoff circle deflected off Florida defenceman Mike Van Ryn and through the legs of goalie Jamie McLennan for the winning goal.

"I saw Eric (Lindros) charging and I figured I'd just put it at the net so maybe he'd get a rebound," Ponikarovsky said.


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