Leafs hold the line

J-S Giguere blocks a clear-cut chance by Brian Gionta in the dying seconds of last night's 3-2 win...

J-S Giguere blocks a clear-cut chance by Brian Gionta in the dying seconds of last night's 3-2 win over the Canadiens at the ACC. (STAN BEHAL, Toronto Sun)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:09 PM ET

Only the TSX posts the kind of one-day gains that the Maple Leafs rang up on opening night:

Home wins up 100% over this time last October, divisional victories the same, penalty-killing going through the roof and confidence could quickly spread around Leafs Nation.

It was just one game, a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, but the Leafs are light years away from 53 weeks ago when they dropped their home opener to the same rival and it morphed into GM Brian Burke’s worst nightmare, one win all month.

Most matters the Leafs promised to improve upon, they did, and yes, it started in goal where Jean-Sebastien Giguere made big saves to reverse two miscues on defence. Three or four came at the buzzer when Toronto sagged, but he emerged with 26 saves and the win.

Giguere was two things Vesa Toskala wasn’t during most of last year’s 0-for-October ACC slump — good and lucky. He made a key short-handed stop on a 2-on-1 late in the first period, the kind of error that used to kill the Leafs. And when three Leafs got caught chasing the same man, he made a shoulder save with the puck landing atop the cage and not plopping behind the goal line. He had the butterfly working to perfection when Lars Eller, on his knees in the crease, tried a blind second-period backhand.

There was a storybook goal by life-long Leafs fan Tim Brent, a Phil Kessel breakaway and the winner, a nifty Clarke MacArthur backhand.

Montreal scored on none of its three power plays and took the Leafs’ old role of parading to the sin bin.

The Brent goal, less than seven minutes in, was exactly what coach Ron Wilson ordered at the morning skate.

“Score first and you probably win 70% of your games,” Wilson said when asked for ways the Leafs could bridge the yawning gap to a playoff spot. “It’s a huge statistic. It doesn’t mean you’ll win, but it puts you in the proper frame of mind.”

Mike Komisarek is big on the Leafs doing the little things well this year, though he was on for both Montreal goals by Dustin Boyd and Jeff Halpern, plays that began with soft clearing passes behind Giguere.

“Getting pucks deep, spending less time in our zone,” Komisarek enthused at the morning skate. “We had a couple of games in pre-season where we get that lead and good things happen. We get on the power play, we tire the defence out a bit.

“Those things might not pay off right away in a game, but later on, you wear them down. We’ve talked about being ready to go and not spotting the other team a one- or two-goal lead.”

At least Komisarek was careful not to go off the rails in his first game since January, after a morning of being reminded how he went loco in last year’s opener against his old team. He was also hurt much of the year.

“It started in training camp with a couple of injuries, then the major one (shoulder surgery). I went into this training camp and did well in testing and beat all my scores from last year. I just generally feel a lot stronger and healthier and in a better state of mind. You want to contribute on a daily basis.

“We want to be that (surprise) playoff team. We had 10 veterans here six weeks before camp, training and working out. It was well-documented how we finished last year and it was great to see guys wanting to do something about it. Everybody went full out, it got heated, there were some fights. It was great, edgy, scrappy. No one was happy the way things worked out last year and guys want to change that.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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