Leafs give Sens good battle

Maple Leafs forward Darcy Tucker gets nailed by Senators defenceman Anton Volchenkov during second...

Maple Leafs forward Darcy Tucker gets nailed by Senators defenceman Anton Volchenkov during second period action at the ACC last night. (Sun Media/Craig Robertson)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

It was two hours before the season opener when a chap wearing a Maple Leafs sweater was spotted outside the Air Canada Centre wearing a bag over his head.

Such were the low expectations simmering in the city for a Leafs team that had not played a meaningful shift in 2007-08.

An exhibition campaign of mediocre goaltending and sloppy defensive play left little optimism among the legions of doubters, especially with the rival Ottawa Senators in town for the curtain-raiser.

But if anything is to be taken out of the Leafs' 4-3 overtime loss over their talented provincial cousins last night, it is that this team might be competitive when it wants to be.

There is no way to suger-coat the fact the Leafs blew a 3-2 lead with less than six minutes remaining on a Dany Heatley goal, then saw Ottawa's newly signed No. 15 rip home the winner at 2:57 of overtime through the legs of goalie Andrew Raycroft.

But mention the phrase "Same old Leafs" in the Toronto dressing room these days and there will be no shortage of protests, especially after last night's effort.

"I don't think there was any part of that game in which we were outplayed or outmatched," Mats Sundin said. "We're way ahead of last year. I think we played a darn good game. We had a couple of breakdowns in our end and with guys like Heatley out there, they will make you pay."

Therein lies one of the obstacles facing theLeafs.

As impressive as Toronto's top unit of Mats Sundin, Jason Blake and Nik Antropov was, there is no game-breaker of Heatley's status on the Leafs roster. The Sens realize that, too, having inked Heatley to a six-year, $45-million contract before the game.

Having said that, the Sundin line looks like it will do some significant damage.

Blake is a waterbug whose motor never quits while the oft-criticized Antropov finally might have found a comfortable home on this unit.

A collective moan could be heard from Leafs fans in the summer when the brittle Antropov was re-signed for another season.

Of course, taking a silly hooking penalty just eight seconds after the opening faceoff won't get Antropov on coach Paul Maurice's Christmas card list. But Antropov made amends by scoring a pair of first period goals, thanks to the efforts of his linemates.

"That No. 80 guy isn't bad," Maurice said. "I think we'll keep him."

Antropov managed to escape the wrath of the fans but Raycroft did not. After allowing the game's opening goal to Antoine Vermette, he was greeted by the first Bronx cheers of the season when he touched the puck at the 7:23 mark of the first period. Matt Stajan had the other Leafs goal while Daniel Alfredsson also scored for Ottawa.

The Leafs can make amends tonight in Ottawa. In the interim, neither they nor their fans should be claiming any "moral victories."

"We lost," Antropov said. "It's nothing to celebrate."


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