The Leafs played one of their most complete games of the season with 59 minutes of sustained hockey against Florida on Monday.
After a lapse allowed the Panthers to score just over a minute into the first period, Toronto took over the game and never relented en route to a one-sided 5-1 victory.
"We played a pretty good game throughout," said Mats Sundin who scored twice. "Since the start of the year we've had really good first periods, then got away from it in the second and third periods and I don't know why. Tonight we came out pretty good and it was good for our confidence."
Tie Domi has energized the Leafs numerous times during his career but it has usually been due to his hard-hitting style. In this game it was his goal after a scramble in front of Florida's net that charged Toronto.
Truth to be told, it could easily have been any of the Leafs to knock that one in the net based on the way the Panthers were playing defence. In fact, it could have been any rec league hockey player who won the Be A Leaf For A Day contest with all the effort Florida's blueliners appeared to put out. And not to take anything away from Domi, but the Panthers level of resistance was on par with the Timbits Hockey kids who amused the crowd during the first intermission.
On Domi's goal there were no less than three Florida defenders in his vicinity who were more interested in trying to swat at the puck than trying to clear the man from in front of their goalie. And if you think it was a case of them being intimidated because it was the feisty Domi, think again. They did the same thing on Toronto's second goal of the game by Sundin.
To the Leafs credit, they did play well, but it takes a combined effort of aggressive offence and passive defence to allow the 20 shots on goal that the Panthers did in the first period and a total of 45 for the game, the 11th time in the past 12 games Florida's beleaguered backstops have faced more than 30 direct hits of frozen rubber.
"It was a pretty good game for us for three periods," agreed Pat Quinn. "We didn't have any of those particular lulls in the things we need to do to ensure what we need to do to win."
When all was done, the Leafs finished the game, claimed their two points and returned to the top of the Eastern Conference standings with 29 points.
It may not say much to have beaten a team that put forth the effort that the Panthers did. But it does say something that Toronto is beating the teams it should, a pleasant change from last year when setbacks to non-playoff teams like Nashville, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Montreal and these same Panthers threatened the Leafs chances to even qualify for the playoffs.
"Sometimes you take those teams for granted but they have skilled players," Domi said. "We're doing those little things that make us a better team. Since that series with New Jersey we've started to gel." Where the Leafs are, to be specific, is back in first place.
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