January 7, 2012
Leafs rescue the victory
By Terry Koshan, QMI Agency
TORONTO - If Ron Wilson had his way, the Detroit Red Wings would be struck from the National Hockey League.
“That is a team of 20 pick-pockets,” the Maple Leafs coach, said. “They should all be arrested. I don’t know what the law is in Ontario. They steal pucks from you all the time.”
Wilson could afford to joke following the game against the Wings, one of the model franchises in the NHL, on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre. Wilson’s club had just pulled off a little crime of its own, stealing a 4-3 win from the Wings thanks to a third-period goal by Joffrey Lupul.
The Leafs were outshot 40-18 and a huge save by Jonas Gustavsson on Johan Franzen with less than a minute to play ensured Toronto’s fourth consecutive home win and third in a row overall. Despite blowing a 3-0 first-period lead, the Leafs finished the first half of the 2011-12 regular season with their 21st victory, moving them up to seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 47 points.
Rather than let the Wings throw the final shovel of dirt on them after Jiri Hudler tied the game at 4:32 of the third, the Leafs responded with several excellent scoring chances. They were rewarded when Lupul, who has 47 points, intercepted a Wings clearing attempt and waited out goalie Jimmy Howard before scoring the winner.
“It was just nice to beat a really good team playing at the top of their game,” Lupul said. “You know what you’re going to get when that team comes in: A puck-possession game. They are not going to turn it over, so to get two points is big for us.”
The Leafs’ first period was almost too good to be true.
Phil Kessel scored on a penalty shot, the first for a Leaf at home since John Pohl scored against Minnesota on Dec. 26, 2006, Phaneuf then ripped a shot from the point on a power play and David Steckel converted a two-on-one pass from Lupul.
But the second period might have been the Leafs’ worst of the season. They had no answers as the Wings played about as high a level of keep-away as you’re going see. Toronto registered a season-low two shots and the Wings had two goals, by Todd Bertuzzi and Niklas Kronwall, to climb back into the game. An octopus landed on the ice as Bertuzzi’s goal was reviewed, and the longtime tradition that someone brought from Joe Louis Arena seemed to steer the Wings in the right direction.
The Leafs got a jarring check from Darryl Boyce on Jakub Kindl, and Gustavsson stacked his pads to thwart Bertuzzi on another attempt, but the Wings had the momentum in a tight grip.
But even when Hudler got the equalizer, the Leafs refused to fold.
“It’s a good team to watch play when you’re our kind of (young) team, to see how the game should be played all the time,” Wilson said. “Every one of their guys is relentless. We took advantage of them in the first period, caught them a little lazy and sleepy, but after that, it was tough slugging.”
Defenceman Mike Komisarek and forward Mike Brown returned to the lineup after long absences because of injuries, with Komisarek’s presence forcing rookie Jake Gardiner to the press box.
Wilson said his “heart stopped” when Franzen had the great scoring chance in the last minute, but Gustavsson showed again he’s serious about taking a run at being the No. 1 netminder for the Leafs.
“I just felt like if I could keep the door shut for the final 10-12 minutes, we would have a good chance to win,” Gustavsson said. “I always believe in our team. (Hudler) scored and that changed the game, but we answered pretty quick.”
CHEEKY EFFORT BY PHANEUF
Dion Phaneuf gave no thoughts to sitting out on Saturday night.
Badly bruised left cheek and all, the Maple Leafs captain sucked up what could have been a devastating injury and played nearly 24 minutes against the Detroit Red Wings.
“I was lucky to be able to play,” Phaneuf said, his cheek still swollen. “I’m very fortunate nothing was broken. It’s always scary when something like that happens. It still hurts.”
Phaneuf was hit in the face by a shot against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night. X-rays revealed no broken bones, and somehow, Phaneuf came away with all of his teeth intact.
He tried a full shield in the morning skate on Saturday, but opted for a bigger visor.
“It was down another inch or so,” Phaneuf said. “I put on as much as I could.
“I have just been eating soft food, and I’m fortunate it was nothing worse.”