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Knocking off champs a good start for Leafs

by Brian Hunter

A few thoughts as we look back at the first night of the new hockey season in North America and get set for a busy weekend:

Leafs look motivated — Before they start thinking about hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs first must concentrate on finding their way back to the playoffs. Being at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday and watching the ceremonies honoring the Detroit Red Wings for their most recent championship season seemed to make an impression on them.

New coach Ron Wilson chose to have his players sit on the bench for the pre-game festivities rather than stay in the locker room, and once the puck was dropped the Leafs were a step ahead of the defending Cup winners for most of the night, never trailing in an eventual 3-2 victory.

"It's great to see the Stanley Cup out there and the crowd going crazy," said defenseman Pavel Kubina, whose power-play goal in the first period opened the scoring. "I'm glad we did it and didn’t sit in the locker room."

Dominic Moore extended Toronto’s lead to 2-0 and rookie Nikolai Kulemin got the eventual game-winner as the Leafs spoiled the party for the 20,066 in attendance. Wilson, who was brought in with the expectation of guiding Toronto to its first playoff berth since 2004, said it was important for his players to see the Red Wings being rewarded for last season’s hard work.

"I have no problem applauding the Red Wings for what they’ve done because we’d like to get there ourselves," Wilson said.

Meanwhile, if Detroit expects to even get back to the final round — much less repeat as Stanley Cup champions — it's going to take more of a complete effort than what they were able to muster Thursday. And the veteran Wings understood that.

"We’re going to see a lot of teams playing us like that, working real hard defensively," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "That’s what we’re going to see throughout the season."

Many happy returnsPatrice Bergeron was back on the ice. Blake Wheeler scored in his first NHL game. And thanks to a late goal by David Krejci, the Boston Bruins left the Pepsi Center in Denver with a season-opening victory.

There was a lot for the Bruins to smile about following their 5-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. Start with a healthy Bergeron, who saw his 2007-08 season end after just 10 games due to a severe concussion. He earned an assist on Phil Kessel’s first-period goal and was effusive afterward when talking about his return.

"I couldn’t wait for this day. I looked forward to this like nothing else," Bergeron said. "When you step on the ice you want to contribute. I don’t care if it’s offensively or defensively. I thought I did that the whole game."

Wheeler, a right wing who spent the past three seasons playing for the University of Minnesota, got on the board just 10:51 into his debut, on his fourth NHL shift. He finished with 12:41 of ice time.

"It was a dream come true and you couldn’t write it any better," Wheeler said.

The back-and-forth game, which saw the Bruins hold 1-0, 2-1 and 4-3 leads and the Avalanche hold a 3-2 advantage, was finally decided when Krejci found himself in the right place at the right time with 2:36 left in regulation. Positioned in front of Avalanche goaltender Peter Budaj, he capitalized on a bouncing puck by keeping things simple.

"I just put the puck on net and hoped it went in. It did," Krejci said. "It feels good."

Boxed in – One of the goals for the Anaheim Ducks entering this season was to cut down on costly penalties. Thursday night’s opener against the San Jose Sharks suggested they still have a long way to go.

The Ducks took seven of the eight penalties assessed over the final two periods and yielded a pair of power-play goals as the Sharks skated away with a 4-1 win at HP Pavilion. Their lack of discipline didn’t sit well with the man in net, for one.

"We like to play on the edge, and I love that we play that way," said goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who was peppered with 41 shots. “At the same time, we need to keep our mouths shut and stop yapping at the officials. They're not all bad calls. We have to take it upon ourselves to be more disciplined."


Some sloppy defensive play also contributed to the Ducks’ misfortunes. After they outshot the Sharks 10-8 over the first 20 minutes, Anaheim was at a 21-3 shot disadvantage during the second. San Jose jumped out to a two-goal lead on a pair of scores by Jonathan Cheechoo and never looked back.

"They came at us and worked the power play after the first goal," Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer said. "Both teams were playing tight until then. You’re not going to win many hockey games when you give the puck away. We should be able to deal with a bad play and stay with our game plan, but we got away from that."

Veteran defenseman Rob Blake, in his first season on the San Jose blue line, liked what he saw from his teammates, who were all too willing to accept what the Ducks were giving them.

"You look how talented and fast our forwards are, and our job is to get the puck in their hands and then follow the play," Blake said. "(Anaheim) got a little behind by taking some penalties, and it throws you off your rhythm when that happens."

An emotional lift — The shots on goal would suggest Thursday’s game between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames was fairly even, maybe even a slight edge in favor of the Flames, who outshot the Canucks, 25-23. The scoreboard said differently.

The Canucks did almost everything right in a 6-0 win at General Motors Place, playing before a crowd that came not only to celebrate the start of a new hockey season but also the too-brief life of defenseman Luc Bourdon, who died in a motorcycle accident in May.

While the pre-game ceremony honoring Bourdon was emotionally draining for fans and players alike, it also provided something of a lift to former teammates such as Alex Burrows. Recognized as Bourdon’s best friend on the team, he scored twice to pace the Vancouver attack.

"I almost cried a little bit on the ice and had to stop watching it," Burrows said of the video for Bourdon, which he already had seen 10 times in an effort to prepare for the emotional tribute. "It was tough, but once the puck dropped it was time to focus on the game and try to be professional about it. Once I got my first shift under my belt that’s when I started feeling good and my legs were going pretty good tonight, so maybe Luc was out there helping me."

Truth is, the Canucks have been clicking on all cylinders since the puck dropped on the preseason. After narrowly missing the playoffs last spring, they’ve come out playing like they mean business.

"We've been playing well," goaltender and new team captain Roberto Luongo said of the Canucks' franchise record 6-0-1 preseason record. "We’re a confident group and we got a lot of momentum."

Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.

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