by John McCauley
December 2, 2003 (TORONTO)
-- If you didn't like this game you don't like hockey. You might not even have a pulse.
Fans complaining the NHL game has been choked by defensive schemes and few rivalries must have felt like they were in bizzaro world watching the Leafs and Rangers battle in the backend of their home-and-home set.
To elder statesman Mark Messier, it was the 80's all over again, minus the hall-of-fame linemates or Bon Jovi blaring in the pre-game warm up.
Nine goals overall, six in the first period, five fighting majors, three game misconducts and two 10-minute misconducts equaled a thrilling 5-4 Leafs victory over the Rangers, Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre. It was the Leafs second straight over the Rangers and sixth straight since their Western swing ended positively in Vancouver.
Mats Sundin took one more step towards becoming the greatest Maple Leaf of all-time, recording his 64th game-winning goal in the third period. He danced behind the net before lifting his patented backhand, top-shelf, over Mike Dunham while in the midst of a spin.
| Defence is key for the Leafs to keep winning |
(Graig Abel Photography)
"Mats is a guy that has scored very important goals for this hockey team," coach Pat Quinn praised. "To me the guys that can score when there's pressure on, when there's not much room out there and in tight games, are a cut above."
Even though Sundin was happy with the win, he wasn't as pleased with the team's defensive performance.
"Overall we did struggle with our game, but we found a way to win," Sundin said before commenting on his milestone. "Once my career is over I can look back on it. It's nice."
Joe Nieuwendyk, who played wing on Sundin's line, concurred with his assessment.
"We definitely want to tighten up the chances against. When we look at the game I don't think we're going to be pleased with what we gave up," Nieuwendyk said. "When you play a team like the Rangers, who are a high-risk, high-reward, you just want to limit your chances against. We got into a chance-for-chance game. It may be fun for the fans, but we don't want to get into the situation where we are doing that."
Quinn, who is known to love a free-flow type of game, believes the only way to have success on a regular basis in this league is keep the defensive zone coverage in check. You can't just play pond hockey and expect to win.
"To play good offence doesn't mean you throw the defence out the window," Quinn said. "You like exciting hockey, but not at the expense of the defence." NOTES:
The Leafs have now evened their goals for and against totals at 69. ... Toronto has a 11-4-5-2 record against Divisions other than their own so far this season. ... Matt Stajan has the rookie lead in plus/minus with a rating of plus-9 LEAFS ALL-STAR VOTING RESULTS -- Eastern Conference WINGERS
Alexander Mogilny (5th in voting with 16,871)
Owen Nolan (6th in voting with 15,234) GOALTENDERS
Ed Belfour (3rd in voting with 20,503) CENTRES
Mats Sundin (4th in voting with 11,008)
Joe Nieuwendyk (5th in voting with 8,689) DEFENCE
Bryan McCabe (8th in voting with 14,268)
Tomas Kaberle (9th in voting with 13,230)