by Mike Ball
December 23, 2003 It's No Trick. Roberts Earning His "A"
Throughout the recent surge of success the Leafs always seem to have at least one player step onto the ice and play with a visibly higher level of passion and determination than the rest.
Often it's been Owen Nolan, but Tuesday Leafs' assistant captain Gary Roberts willed his team to a 5-2 victory over the Panthers, sending the citizens of Leafs Nation home for Christmas with a 15-game point streak to tuck under the tree.
| Mats and the other "top-liners" are stepping up. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
Roberts was physical throughout and opened the scoring at 9:53 of the first on a power play, deflecting a tape-to-tape pass from Mats Sundin. The top line of Sundin, Renberg and Roberts has been producing.
"I think both Gary and Mikael, they're tough to play (against)," said Sundin. "They're not scared going to the net, they work hard on the boards ... I think he's (Roberts) playing really well."
Roberts would go on to add the eventual game winner, again on the power play and narrowly missed the hat trick on a disallowed kick-in. A Welcome Gift For The Birthday Boy
Karel Pilar, surely breathed a quiet sigh of relief Tuesday as he celebrated his 26th birthday by snapping an NHL goal-scoring slump just five days shy of the year mark.
During this time the blueliner has been through an illness that threatened his career and didn't have any trouble making the score sheet on The Rock, but Pilar has to feel good about the monkey getting off his back.
"Yes for sure it's been a year almost right now and I'm happy I can play and we're playing well and I'm in the lineup so it's going to feel good for me.
"I'm happy that I scored, everyday I want to score. So it's nice on (my) birthday, but we won the game and (that's what) makes me happy." The Best Gift Of All
And finally, what better gift to take home than to look at the NHL standings to find the Toronto Maple Leafs sitting in first place overall.
With Philadelphia losing 4-2 on Long Island Tuesday night and Detroit idle for the holidays, the Leafs' 49 points are tops in the league.
Not since 1963 has Toronto been in first for Christmas.
Put the float building on hold, but the Leafs did lift the Cup the last time it happened.