Feisty Leafs go down fighting

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:02 PM ET

DETROIT — If this was another nail in the coffin of the Maple Leafs playoff hopes, at least this feisty team continues to go down fighting.

And, in the process, the Leafs inflicted their share of pain on the mighty Red Wings, with defenceman Brian Rafalski and goalie Jimmy Howard each getting banged up in Detroit’s 4-2 victory on Saturday.

Both injuries occurred because the Leafs played with a ferocity this franchise, frankly, hasn’t seen in quite some time. And, in each case, there was controversy involved.

When Darryl Boyce crushed Rafalski against the boards while finishing his check late in the second period, some press box observers suggested Boyce may have left his feet. Rafalski left favouring the same right knee that recently kept him out of the lineup but, fortunately, was able to return in the third.

To his credit, Boyce is not afraid to go into the dirty areas. When Nazem Kadri scored the Leafs’ first goal in the opening period, it was Boyce who had the perfect screen on Howard.

Toronto’s penchant for going in front of the Wings net continued in the third when Joffrey Lupul, standing right in Howard’s face, scooped in Toronto’s second goal off a rebound. Lupul was dumped on top of Howard by Kris Draper on the play, causing Detroit’s No. 1 goalie to leave the contest with an apparent shoulder ailment.

Whether the Leafs make the post-season or not, this is the type of “truculence” and competitiveness Brian Burke wanted to see when he took over as general manager.

Net pains

Yes, that was former Leaf Joey MacDonald making save after spectacular save after Howard left the game. Talk about haunting your former team. “I just wanted to contribute. Hopefully Jimmy’s not too bad,” MacDonald said ... According to Wings GM Ken Holland, the Howard injury was “not significant.” He was scheduled to have a precautionary MRI ... The Lupul goal, by the way, should not have counted. Lupul was interfering with Howard long before Draper decked him. This is going to be a pressing issue of contention once the playoffs come around. Cue the goaltender interference debate ... Wings coach Mike Babcock understands the Lupul-Howard incident was a tough one for the officials to identify. His biggest issue with the non-call? If it was Tomas Holmstrom, they would have called him for being “anywhere in the area,” Babcock said.

Fight night

The Red Wings came into the game with the least number of fighting majors of any team in the NHL. But that didn’t stop Justin Abdelkater from going after Boyce after the Leafs forward wallpapered Rafalski ... That fight took second billing on this night, overshadowed by the bout in Section 225 in the second period. No wussies allowed here. At one point, a fan wearing a Wendel Clark jersey was dragged out of the pile. Kind of fitting, isn’t it?

Rocking the house, Part A

It’s ridiculous that these two Original Six teams face each other just once a season. In fact, this was the Leafs first regular-season game in Detroit since Oct. 9, 2008. That game featured the NHL debuts of both Nikolai Kulemin and Luke Schenn. Almost three years later, those two players have the longest tenure in terms of games played in a Maple Leaf uniform on the current roster.

Rocking the house, Part B

The at-times deafening noise created by the Wings and Leafs fans in attendance underscored an important point: The atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre leaves so much to be desired. How is it that several thousand Toronto supporters can make more noise in a visiting building than 19,000 of them at most Leaf home games? Simple. These are the real blue-and-white fanatics, not the corporate types that spent as much time in the ACC suites under the stands as they do in the seats.

Last minute of play

Goalie James Reimer was flattered when a message sent to him from former Leaf Ed Belfour was passed on to him by the Toronto Sun. “Good luck from a fellow Manitoban to James Reimer down the stretch,” Belfour said ... Great to see Johnny Wilson, four-time Stanley Cup winner with the Red Wings and the uncle of Leafs coach Ron Wilson, in attendance. Johnny Wilson was interviewed midway through the second period, a conversation that was broadcast on the centre ice screen. “I’m a proud uncle,” he said. “My nephew is the coach of the Maple Leafs and they are playing wonderful hockey. Both teams are.”

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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