With about six minutes left in a preseason game, everything changed for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs held a 2-1 lead but the Detroit Red Wings were gifted with a two-on-none which resulted in a slam dunk chance for Detroit’s Johan Ryno.
Ryno was, maybe five feet away from the goalline.
So was Leaf goalie Jonas Gustavsson
. He had been for an appreciable period of time.
There are moments, little moments in the careers of goaltenders, when the home crowd decides they would trust this kid with their cars, their kids, and most importantly, the fortunes of their favourite hockey players.
Last year, Leafs fans did it for the last time when they wildly cheered Curtis Joseph when he came off the bench to stop Alexander Ovechkin and then whatever number the Caps could pull to throw at him in the shootout.
Saturday's game, which thanks to Gustavsson finished 2-1 Leafs, was one of those nights.
The people, the same ones who booed Ed Belfour when his first shot against went through for a goal, went bananas.
Gustavsson, a gangly kid who seems in conversation like your typical half asleep teenager, didn’t know what to make of it. He skated around and kept moving but the people kept cheering.
“That was unbelievable, the cheers when I made that save,” he said.
Gustavsson has played three periods and not allowed a goal. He made a fifteen saves against a Red Wings squad playing without most of their top offensive stars including Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen.
Defenceman Carl Gunnarsson
also scored for the Leafs. So did Viktor Stalberg, the can’t miss Swede who collected his fifth goal of the preseason.
Gunnarsson was as impressed as everyone else in the house.
“He’s good. I don’t know if he has any weaknesses,” he said. “He’s a great goalie. I’m just glad to have him on my team.”
It was put to Gunnarsson that this was a good night for Sweden, perhaps the first time the Leafs had three Swedes as stars one, two and three.
“It’s a good night for Toronto,” Gunnarsson said.
Gustavsson may have only played three periods but ablation surgery or no, Joey MacDonald is not going to beat out a coveted free agent who has been literally, unbeatable, albeit over the small sample group of three periods.
Allow me to be the first to open the goaltending controversy which has been disconcertingly absent from these parts for years.
The Leafs are compelled to keep Stalberg and Bozak. They are 23 and NHL ready. What this means for Lee Stempniak, Jiri Tlusty and Jamal Mayers is an open question.
If you want to see Nazem Kadri
, take the 401 to London.
The defence, meanwhile, is set with Francois Beauchemin, excellent so far, Garnet Exelby, Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek
, Luke Schenn
and either one of Jeff Finger
, Ian White or the injured Mike Van Ryn.
Gunnarsson is gone, he is skilled but needs to thicken out.
Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson wisely threw water on any excitement over Stalberg and Gustavsson.
“He’s had three periods and he’s looked pretty good. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves," said Wilson.
“We’ve seen thousands of times where someone has a great game and that doesn’t make a career. Especially if it’s an exhibition game.”
The Leafs have one final exhibition game on Sunday at Air Canada Centre against Buffalo before busing to a team retreat. They open the regular season Thursday against Montreal.