TORONTO - He is a hockey player and a tough one at that.
But if this was the NFL, would Mikhail Grabovski have even been allowed to return and play the hero in the third period against the Bruins Tuesday night?
Twice the Belarusian had his head crushed into the end boards by Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara and clearly felt the effects of each.
Wobbly and dazed from the second one, Grabovski barely made it back to the bench where the TV cameras caught him coming back to earth with the help of smelling salts.
Grabovski was awake, all right, scoring the game winner — his second of the game — with a brilliant individual effort to give the Leafs the win. He may not remember the move, but Grabovski didn’t even miss a shift.
It may have been the best night as a Leaf, but in this era of so much attention being paid to head shots and concussions, we’ll be hearing about it for more than just the goals.
Some may question the wisdom of his return, but his toughness was never in doubt.
Big difference between Phil Kessel’s performance Tuesday compared to his four other trips to Boston as a Leaf was the confidence with which he played, odd for a guy who hadn’t scored in 14 games. But rather than squeezing his stick, Kessel was on fire, scoring a pair, hitting the post once and turning in probably his best overall efforts of the season ... Wouldn’t you like to see more Leafs’ forwards do what Patrice Bergeron did on the Bruins’ third goal? Somehow, Bergeron fought off Phaneuf, who was hanging all over him, to get to the loose puck. Having said that, no excuse for Phaneuf losing the battle for the loose puck behind the net ... We know he must drive head coaches crazy, but how do goalie coaches deal with Tim Thomas? He robbed Joffrey Lupul with his patented dive save and roll in the first and later handed a perfect pass to Clarke MacArthur, who couldn’t bang the bouncing puck into the empty net. The erratic style can cost him as well as Thomas didn’t have a night to remember ... The rash of bad penalties lately has been troublesome for the Leafs, including three in a row in the middle period ... How often over the years have the Leafs been desperate for the big save? The one James Reimer made in the final 20 seconds was sensational.
Seen and heard
Go ahead and roll your eyes every time Leafs GM Brian Burke says “we’re not throwing in the towel” as he said earlier Tuesday. But what else would you expect him to say? “We’re done, looking forward 2013.” We all know the playoffs are remote, but until the math says no, at least the season remains interesting. As goofy as it is, if the Leafs finally find a way to win in Buffalo on Wednesday and the red-hot Devils beat Carolina, they would be just six points behind Carolina and the final spot in the East. And with 27 games left after the Sabres tilt ... Don’t be surprised if talks between Leafs’ brass and Clarke MacArthur start to pick up any time soon.
Playing the old role of Kessel Tuesday night: Bruins forward Milan Lucic? The big man had at least five good scoring chances and one post ... Fun to watch towering defencemen like Chara Tuesday and the Sabres’ Tyler Myers up next on Wednesday. But the Leafs believe they have one of their own in Keith Aulie, the 6-foot-6 rookie Keith Aulie. As he develops, that height and reach will be big on special teams and saw some time on the penalty kill Tuesday night. He will have moments like he did against the Bruins — like a penalty and bad giveaway in the third - but the Leafs are willing to be patient.
In response to some fuss in Buffalo, the Sabres gave Ryan Miller his first night off in 31 games Tuesday in Montreal. Just what the Leafs needed for Wednesday’s game down the QEW ... Why do the Bruins want Tomas Kaberle? As Sportsnet’s Doug MacLean pointed out, all you need to do is watch March Recchi on Boston’s power play ... With Grabovski (24) and Kessel (21) each getting a pair against the Bruins, who leads the team in goals at season’s end? MacArthur (17) and Nik Kulemin (21) are in the mix ... Kessel had 61 shots on net between goals in that 14-game slump ... The tweeting conspiracy theorists might have just been having fun, but does anyone really think the league wouldn’t have overturned Gregory Campbell’s goal if video showed it was knocked in by a high stick? ... Now former Leaf Kris Versteeg started his Flyers career on a line with captain Mike Richards and Andreas Nodl wearing No. 10.