Leaf comeback snuffed

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

CALGARY -- Where were you on Jan. 6, 2006, the previous time the Maple Leafs visited the Stampede City?

Luke Schenn was a baby-faced rookie with the Western Hockey League's Kelowna Rockets.

Mikhail Grabovski was counting his rubles as a member of the Russian elite league's Dynamo Moscow squad.

Vesa Toskala was a San Jose Shark, a team coached by Ron Wilson; Pavel Kubina was a member of the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning; Jeff Finger was patrolling the blue line for the American Hockey League's Lowell Lock Monsters; and Nikolai Kulemin was playing alongside Evgeni Malkin with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Russia.

No wonder fans at the Pengrowth Saddledome had problems identifying all those unfamiliar faces blue-and-white jerseys last night.

At least the Calgary fans, anyway.

For the 4,000-plus Maple Leaf supporters in the house, well, they were quite familiar with the guys on the visitors bench.

For the record, the Leafs dropped a 1-0 decision to the Flames on that fateful night 34 months ago, with Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff recording the shutout.

Kiprusoff would not blank the Leafs on this night, as Alexei Ponikarovsky beat him to open the scoring at 9:20 of the first period.

Unfortunately for the Leafs and their legions of backers, a late comeback attempt from a 4-1 deficit would not be enough as the Flames held on for the 4-3 victory.

"We were down two goals (after two periods). We were turning over pucks and it cost us," Ponikarovsky said. "We've got to find a way to stay in games."

Niklas Hagman refused to use the change in time zones as an excuse.

"Everybody goes through it. You have to deal with it," Hagman said.

"It was different when we scored though. When I was in Dallas, it was quiet when we scored in here. Tonight it was like one of our home games."

After Ponikarovsky's goal, the Flames scored four consecutive times. Dustin Boyd scored twice with Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf adding singles.

Nik Antropov and Matt Stajan scored late to narrow the gap. Stajan didn't even touch the puck. Craig Conroy won the faceoff cleanly only to see the puck deflect off Phaneuf's stick into his own net.

To that point, it was a memorable performance for Phaneuf, whose left eye was swollen shut just 24 hours earlier after being clipped by the stick of the Chicago Blackhawks' Martin Havlat over the weekend. He finished with a goal and an assist.

Result aside, the fact that the Leafs are such a different team from that which played here in 2006 only underscores just how ridiculous the NHL schedule has been prior to this season.

Three years between Western Canadian stops for the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens is a sham. Generations of fans in Alberta and B.C. grew up in an era when the Leafs and Habs were the only teams north of the border, members of the Original Six.

At least with the NHL's revised schedule, the Leafs will face the Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks twice this season, once on the road, once at the Air Canada Centre.

On a positive note for the Leafs, Grabovski continues to produce on the scoresheet, notching an assist. He is now on a five-game points streak, registering six goals and three assists in that span.

"He has been our best player thus far this season," coach Ron Wilson said earlier in the day.

After practising at the Saddledome today, the Leafs will head to Edmonton for a date with the Oilers tomorrow night.


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