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LIVE Blogging The Leafs vs. Devils

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Box | Recap | Pics | : Pre | Game In 6 | Post | Wilson | Blake | More reaction


The Maple Leafs may be turning the corner.

Certainly a win against the perennially strong New Jersey Devils would go a long way toward building on the momentum of Friday’s 2-1 win in Buffalo.

The game features a new number one line, the oddity of a New Jersey goalie other than Martin Brodeur and who knows what other surprises and mayhem.

Why delay to talk about the play. I will be live blogging. Check in anytime you want, just to make sure you saw what you thought you saw.

1st Period

You may not know this but the playing of the National Anthems was a wartime measure designed to increase patriotism in the Second World War. It stuck around, as you may notice, and has become a nice podium for drunken goofballs who believe booing another country’s anthem is even cooler than sticking firecrackers in the carcass of a dead squirrel.

I myself am a big supporter of the anthems which doesn’t seem quite so important since Mike Ruff scored just 1:49 into the game when Jeff Finger threw a puck through the middle. But I digress.

If the anthems prove anything it’s that Canadians sing but do not shout. Mo Johnston said the most memorable moment of FC’s first season was listening to Canadians sing the national anthem at the team’s first game. I’ve heard thousands of renditions, and still, if the occasion is right, get chills. So anyone who wants to nix the anthems has to go through me first.

Oh my God. I sound like Don Cherry.

7:36 p.m.

Bobby Holik, the urbane Czech is back with the Devils and it looks good on him.

Holik upholds the country’s tradition of intelligent, intellectually curious hockey players.

Holik is extraordinarily knowledgeable on American politics and history. He can talk about global geopolitics or your kid’s minor hockey program. When the Leafs and Devils met regularly in the playoffs, Mats Sundin wore Holik like a cheap suit but Holik distinguished himself as a noble checker.

At 37, after 17 NHL seasons, this is likely his last go around but while the program shows only one goal in nine games, Holik’s passing into retirement will siphon away another lonely quote and curious mind form the game.

7:48 p.m.

The Leafs will finish the period with only five shots which reminds me of the time.

The time. This game started at 7 p.m. Weekday games usually start at 7:30 p.m.

There are certain times you don’t mess with. Take midnight mass. It’s not the same if it starts at 11:05 p.m.

Weekday Maple Leaf games start at 7:30. Not 7:00. At this rate, I will have to go home to my kids and find them awake. Did anyone think about that?

2nd Period

Scott Clemmensen, in for the injured Martin Brodeur, looks rock steady in the New Jersey net and this gets me to thinking.

How handy would Clemmensen have been last season when Andrew Raycroft tanked.

The lack of a dependable backup was a devastating blow to a fragile Leafs team and I think we all know how it turned out.

Raycroft has been unable to put together great stats for the Colorado Avalanche but he is 4-1 and that’s worth something.

Nik Antropov finally solves Clemmensen with eight minutes to go. The goal is his 11th of the season and is built on all the elements that talent evaluators saw while Antropov weathered a flurry of injuries, reach, hands and strength.

8:42 p.m.

Jeremy Williams has done it again. Williams grabbed a loose puck and whipped a low shot past Clemmensen. Leafs lead 2-1.  It his third goal, in his third game with the Leafs.

Williams is the neglected prospect, the one no one really considered when assessing the Leafs chances but he scored 11 goals with the Marlies this season and is showing signs of rounding into a solid pro.

His arrival is unexpected, the Marlies weren’t expected to produce much material for the Leafs this season but another top nine forward would, especially one who is just 24 years old, would boost the team’s retooling. He is a shooter who tinkers with angles. Marlies coaches marveled not only at his release but the varied way it would come off his stick blade.

The kid brings a little colour, he likes to rodeo and was renowned for choosing poor movies for the Marlies team bus. He rented Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigalow. We do not joke.

Zach Parise attempted jam shot floats over the shoulder of Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala. The game is tied 2-2 with 19.1 seconds left.
Cue suspense.


Third period

Williams gets power play time on the first unit but the Leafs squander an early power play but there are two games here. In the first, the Devils were the far better team. The Leafs pressed to gain an advantage in the second but the shots, New Jersey 18, Toronto 15, reflects that disparity.

Pushed up to the first line with Antropov and Matt Stajan, Nikolai Kulemin shows lots of flash but not yet enough finish. Kulemin has scored six goals. He will score in the teens this season but remains at 22 a glittering  prospect. He will be a 25-30 goal scorer in the NHL, a player with enough speed and defensive instinct to stay on the first line.

9:27 p.m.

Mikhail Grabovski is on a line with Lee Stempniak and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Leafs coach Ron Wilson, looking to exploit Williams, put him with Grabovski. The Belarus native (do you call them Belarussians?) is clearly the most skilled Leaf and a steal for a second-rounder. But he hangs on to the puck for too long for my money.

Not so Tomas Kaberle who put the puck on Zach Parise’s stick in the game’s last minute.

Score one for Toskala who will get this thing into overtime.

9:36 p.m.

In a moment of terrific entertainment, Toskala stops Travis Zajac at the buzzer. Not sure if it would have counted but great fun.

9:50 p.m.

Wilson starts by selecting Lee Stempniak to shoot first. Interesting choice. Stempniak has one goal as a Leaf and he fires it into Clemmensen’s pad.

Next comes Parise who delivers 13 moves. He seems to lose the puck on the 12th.

Another surprise, Tomas Kaberle, also finds the New Jersey goalie.

Toskala stops Patrik Elias with absolute impunity, setting the stage for Jeremy Williams, the star of the night. Williams roofs the puck past Clemmensen but Jamie Langenbrunner scores to even things.

And then Jason Blake does a remarkable thing. He skates in, spins around and bamboozles Clemmensen. Blake’s struggles this year and last have been well documented but this goal is a marvelous bit of improvisation. It goes to show you: when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose. The goal will be replayed for days, weeks even, especially since Brian Rolston misses on an ill-advised slapper from the top of the slot.

The Leafs win 3-2 and have won three straight. Their record is squared at 12-12-6. Jason Blake is the first star.

It has been, from Toskala’s stellar play to the abundant potential flashed by Williams to Blake’s redemptive spinaround, an entertaining night.
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