The rallying cry in pro sports these days is 'Protect this House."
So the Maple Leafs bought a whack of home insurance last night on Nik Antropov's 3-2 winner against the Florida Panthers with 27.6 seconds to play, capping a bizarre shift in which smallish defenceman Ian White dropped his glove and Vesa Toskala stopped Jay Bouwmeester of the Cats on a breakaway.
And then there was week-long whipping boy Bryan McCabe scoring, hitting and winning back some cheers at the Air Canada Centre.
"You stick around long enough, you see everything," Toronto coach Paul Maurice said of the finish, the sixth one-goal or empty-net game the Leafs have been involved in during an eventful eight-game launch to the NHL season (3-3-2).
"We've had a tough (nine-day stretch). A big defeat, a big win, two games where we lost leads, the situation with Jason Blake (disclosure of leukemia) and Bryan's situation. So I could sense we were tight to start tonight."
Two first-period Florida goals didn't help, one by Rostislav Olesz on the power play, the other by David Booth after botched clearing, two areas the Leafs struggled with of late. The crowd, which had come ready to boo McCabe as a symbol of their dissatisfaction with early season team results, was certainly smelling blood.
"I was looking for that, but towards the end of the first when we were killing a penalty, we could hear a 'Go Leafs Go' chant," Maurice said. "I could feel them getting behind us."
Blake scored 24 ticks into the second and McCabe put an Antropov pass through Craig Anderson, incredibly the fourth consecutive reserve goalie the Leafs have faced.
In the haywire closing minute, White took exception to a cross check by veteran Jozef Stumpel and challenged him to fight, seizing the bigger man's jersey at one point.
"I felt it was a bit of a cheap shot," White said. "I grabbed him, he mumbled something, but he's (Slovakian) and I didn't understand.
"I'd have started swinging if he did. I thought I'd just get a misconduct, but they (officials) let me go."
That White didn't get at least a minor enraged Olli Jokinen, the Panthers' captain playing in his team record 301st straight game.
"That is the most penalized team in the league, yet they managed to stay out of the box," Jokinen said. "The refs found penalties against us, though. The other guy challenges our guy and holds him down for 10 seconds. It should be a (expletive) penalty, automatic."
While White and Stumpel simmered, Bouwmeester bore down on Toskala.
"I was shouting at the guys to (get back), but I don't think they heard me," Toskala said. His 26-save night might earn him a second straight start tomorrow against Chicago.
The Leafs made a switch for the fifth consecutive game, with Maurice admitting the rotation would stay in place until Andrew Raycroft or Toskala stole a win.
Alexei Ponikarovsky was back after missing three games. Kyle Wellwood may be back tomorrow, too.
Carlo Colaiacovo might also be ready for his season debut against the Hawks.