Brian Burke looked out onto the Air Canada Centre ice and saw that it was good.
Yes, the buildup has been THAT big.
The Maple Leafs won their first game under their new general manager and president, defeating a Philadelphia Flyers team well ahead of them in the standings by a count of 4-2.
It marked the second straight strong performance from goalie Vesa Toskala and halted a nasty streak in which the Leafs had gone five games without a win. Toskala’s ability to outplay Martin Biron in the Flyers net was the key element of the game. The Leafs were outshot, if only 30-27.
“He played great, even the last game against Ottawa (a 2-1 loss on penalty shots) he was solid,” said Pavel Kubina, a goalscorer on the night. “He was especially good on the power play; they had pressure for almost two minutes sometimes.”
There has never been any real speculation on the identity of the new general manager.
Instead the conversation has been about what Burke would do. Much of that has centered on who would be going. With all that in the backdrop, Burke addressed the team before the game.
Said coach Ron Wilson: “I think Brian did a good job by relaxing them from - I hate to be blunt - the dumb questions you guys have been asking…that Brian was going to trade them in a week.”
Toskala, as unflappable a human being as exists anywhere, said he was unconcerned but he could see how the talk was helpful.
“I can only speak for myself. I haven’t wasted any thought over that. It doesn’t change anything, but I guess (Burke’s arrival) is a good thing. Everybody knows he will be here for the next six years. Everybody is pretty excited.”
“Brian is an honest guy,” Kubina said. “He told us what he wanted and we responded well. His message was he wants this team to play for each other, maybe be a little more aggressive and be physical out there.”
The Leafs and their new boss will have plenty of time to get to know each other. The club sets out on a three-game road trip that includes games in Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix before returning home next Saturday to play the Washington Capitals.
Some of the aggressiveness Burke favored was on display against the Flyers. Newcomer Andre Deveaux and veteran Jamal Mayers each had a bout. But the Leafs were dealt a blow when Flyers’ defenceman Josh Gratton savagely crosschecked Toronto forward Mikhail Grabovsky from behind early in the third period. Grabovsky came back but seeing the Flyers initiate much - if not most - of the contact on enemy ice would not warm any new general manager.
What Leaf fans see now is what they will most likely get, at least for a while. Burke will need time to evaluate his team; he believes scouting reports, second-hand appraisals and video to be nice toys but no real measure of a player’s worth.
Lee Stempniak, Nik Antropov, Dominic Moore and Pavel Kubina scored for the Maple Leafs.
Mike Richards had both Philly goals.
The Leafs jumped out in front when Stempniak redirected a pass from Dominic Moore in a goalmouth scramble.
“The puck bounced in off my skate,” he said, “but I guess it just shows you that you should go to the net. I’ll take one of those every night.”
A minute later, Kubina fanned on a bouncing puck. Joffrey Lupul dashed in untouched and Richards dunked a loose puck into the empty net.
The Leafs reclaimed the lead early in the second when Nik Antropov intercepted a clearing attempt by Philly goalie Martin Biron and slid it into the net.
Dominic Moore put the Leafs up 3-1 when the puck found him just as he was stepping out of the penalty box. Moore crashed into Biron and the puck somehow found its way over the goal line.
The Flyers narrowed things to 3-2 after some terribly self-destructive play on a Toronto power play. Tomas Kaberle’s giveaway in the Philadelphia end and Antropov’s lost stick allowed Richards to slam the puck into an empty net for a shorthanded goal and his second marker of the night.
The Leafs jacked the lead back up to 4-2 when Kubina ripped a long shot past Biron.