by Matt Akler, mapleleafs.com
After arriving in New Jersey on Thursday, a handful of Leafs paid a visit to what has become known as Ground Zero in New York, the site of the World Trade Center tragedy.
In the sporting sense, Ground Zero, the point of contact, was Air Canada Centre on Saturday with the second stage of a back-to-back clash between Toronto and New Jersey that finished in a 1-1 tie. This rivalry is taking on a nice feeling of nastiness that was intensified by the schedule-maker who delivered a home-and-home series. Perhaps the league should consider scheduling more of those to juice up what can sometimes be a long and drawn-out regular season.
After Friday's win by the Devils, their head coach Larry Robinson described the game as "playoffs in November" and it was more of the same on Saturday.
|There was a lot of this kind of action in the Leafs game against New Jersey on Saturday.|
"It felt like the playoffs with two games in two nights and felt like playoff-type intensity," said Curtis Joseph. "I'm glad we have a day off tomorrow but the point is to win the game. The rivalry continues."
Less than two minutes after the opening faceoff, the expected dustup occurred between Jim McKenzie, Tie Domi's attacker from the previous night, and one of the Leafs, any one of the Leafs (it happened to be Wade Belak). What followed though was an intense, hard-hitting, well-played hockey game where both clubs showed why they are among the best in the Eastern Conference.
"I know we're not there yet. We're not as good as they are," analyzed Pat Quinn. "When they make mistakes, it doesn't seem to rattle them. They're more disciplined and they are better than us. That's probably why they beat us the last two years (in the playoffs)."
There was sparkling play in the nets at both ends as Curtis Joseph and Martin Brodeur each staked his claim as the rightful number one goalie for the Canadian Olympic team, performances that were not lost on Quinn, the national team coach.
But it will be the bouts of feistiness and scuffles that filled the final minutes of the third period that will overshadow the way this game was played. The true feelings shared by these teams for one another were exemplified in those closing moments.
You know the old skit where a seemingly endless parade of clowns emerge from a compact car. The Leafs and Devils did their version by seeing how many hockey players they could stuff into a standard size NHL penalty box. It would be wise for Air Canada Centre staff to build larger penalty boxes the next time these teams meet.
Still, fans were treated to an entertaining game with certainly great anticipation for the next encounter.
"I think people got their money's worth tonight," said Leaf captain Mats Sundin.
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