Leafs thrash Atlanta again

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

Many predicted the potential grudge match between the Maple Leafs and Atlanta Thrashers last night might turn into a dog-and-pony show.

It did, just as advertised.

The dogs, at least in the early going, were the Thrashers, who gave up three first-period goals and surrendered 13 of the game's first 14 shots en route to a 5-1 loss at the Air Canada Centre.

Two of the Leafs goals came courtesy of Alexei Ponikarovsky, who registered a three-point night to help Toronto equal its season-high winning streak at four.

After all the hype, all the speculation of revenge, all the predictions of potential beatings, the Maple Leafs did, in fact, thump the Thrashers right out of the building.

But this thrashing had nothing to do with fisticuffs or cheap shots.

No, this mugging took place on the scoreboard.

In their first meeting since their much-publicized brawlfest on Oct. 14, the Leafs opened the scoring in the game's first minute thanks to Alex Steen and never looked back. They have now outscored the Thrashers 14-2 this season.

"We knew the points from this game were too valuable to take silly penalties and I think (the Thrashers) had that in their minds as well," said Ponikarovsky, who is thriving on the wing alongside Jason Allison and Nik Antropov. "It was pretty quiet in terms of guys going to the box."

Any notions of extra curricular activities were taken care of early in the first period when Wade Belak and Eric Boulton dropped the gloves and engaged in a lively heavyweight battle that lasted for more than a minute.

Boulton was perceived by the Leafs as one of the villains who sparked the Dixie dustup last month when he allegedly took a run at the head of Eric Lindros.

But with Belak and Boulton shedding some testosterone right off the bat, the remainder of the contest was a relatively clean -- albeit frustrating -- affair for the Thrashers and their beleaguered coach, Bob Hartley.

"We were down 2-0 at the time. I was just trying to spark our team a bit," Boulton said of his fight with Belak. "It's part of the game. It's no big deal."

Boulton was not surprised that the game did not degenerate into a WWE card.

"That's the way it always is," he said. "Nothing ever happens (when there is so much talk.)"

To a man, the Leafs credit their recent success to their newfound penchant of avoiding the sin bin. They took only four minor penalties during a 4-1 victory in Boston on Thursday, then followed it up with just five last night.

Such discipline has helped on the defensive end, too, as the team has allowed only three goals in its past three games.

"We've had a lot of meetings about tightening up at the back end and staying out of the box, and now it seems we're doing just that," goaltender Ed Belfour said.

Steen put the Thrashers on their heels 50 seconds after the opening faceoff when he ripped a shot into the top corner past goalie Adam Berkhoel. Bryan McCabe and Antropov also scored in the first.

Ilya Kovalchuk replied for Atlanta.


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