Schenn breaks out

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:54 PM ET

They started the night chanting the name of a star from the not-so-storied past of the franchise, Doug Gilmour.

By the end of it, the 19,570 at the Air Canada Centre were serenading a player who seems well on his way to becoming the Maple Leafs' face of the future.

Rookie defenceman Luke Schenn drew the ire of the opposition, the admiration of his teammates and the adoration of the Toronto fans in a 5-4 win over the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins.

In what might have been his best game in an increasingly strong debut season, Schenn delivered some crushing hits last night, lit a fire with a decisive victory in a fight and set up his team's fourth goal with a rare burst of offensive flare.

"He definitely doesn't play like a rookie," said Mike Van Ryn, Schenn's defensive partner for much of the game. "To play with him is a joy. He definitely has the makings of a leader."

Against the once high-flying Penguins, the leadership was by example.

Leafs coach Ron Wilson did his best to match Schenn against Penguins snipers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, and Schenn clearly was up to the challenge.

Schenn got Leafs general manager Brian Burke and most of the ACC crowd out of their seats when he wrestled Pittsburgh's Tyler Kennedy to the ice in the second period before pummelling his opponent with a couple of shots to the head.

And with the Leafs clinging to a 3-2 lead in the third period, Schenn rushed the puck behind the Pens net before feeding it in front to Matt Stajan, who jammed it past goalie Mathieu Garon.

The game was far from over, though, in a wild final period that started with a 3-1 Leafs lead and at one point was tied 4-4 after a pair of Pens goals 1:14 apart by Malkin and Kennedy.

But Jason Blake, with his seventh goal in the past seven games, saved the day by scoring the game-winner with 9:55 remaining.

As for Schenn, Wilson continues to be impressed by the youngster's development and, more importantly, the way he responds to each new challenge.

"The hit, the fight, the physicality ... for a 19-year-old to dominate the game physically like that is unbelievable," Wilson said. "How many teams would assign a 19-year-old to cover the two best players in the game? He did a great job against their top players.

"He does punish you when he hits you."

The most bruising of those blows came in the second period when Schenn clocked Malkin in front of the Penguins bench. Wilson was particularly impressed with that clean hit because it was clear the Pens would answer the bell.

"You know when you are doing that, they are going to come looking for you and it didn't deter him at all," Wilson said. "He finishes his checks (better) than any young defenceman I have seen in a long time."

Moments later, Schenn had dropped the gloves against Kennedy and the young Leaf was up to that task as well.

"(Kennedy) pretty much said: 'You don't touch our (star) players like that,' " said Schenn, who with the absence of injured veteran Tomas Kaberle, logged a team-high 18:41 in ice time. "One thing led to another and I just dropped the mitts. I guess sometimes it needs to be done."

The Leafs built a 3-1 lead after two periods on goals by Ian White, Nik Antropov (with his second in as many games after a 16-game drought) and Alexei Ponikarovsky. When Crosby scored 55 seconds into the third, it was the start of an exciting, albeit sloppy, five-goal final period.

With the win, the Leafs snapped a four-game home losing streak and won back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 20 and 22.

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REPLAY

REVIEW, PLEASE

The Leafs have petitioned the league to look into the second-period fight between Tyler Kennedy of the Penguins and Luke Schenn.

Toronto management believes that Kennedy left the bench to fight Schenn, which by rule could draw a suspension.

"In my opinion, he came off the bench and initiated the fight," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said.

"We'll see what the investigation shows.

"(General manager Brian Burke) called the league and they are investigating."

POWER POINT

With Tomas Kaberle expected to be out of the lineup for the better part of a month, the Leafs needed a new quarterback for their power play. While that may be a lot to ask of second-year Leaf Anton Stralman, the young Swede got off to a good start last night.

A Stralman shot on goal set up the Leafs' second goal after Nik Antropov banged home the second rebound past Pens goaltender Mathieu Garon.

BIRTHDAY BOY

Leafs rookie Mikhail Grabovski celebrated his 25th birthday in style. His hustle led to an assist on Alexei Ponikarovsky's second-period goal which opened up a 3-1 lead for the Leafs.


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