DETROIT - A Toronto Maple Leafs season that isn't expected to include many highlights has already produced a memorable moment.
Nikolai Kulemin's first NHL goal stood up as the winner Thursday as the Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 on a night where the defending Stanley Cup champions raised another championship banner.
Four of the Maple Leafs were playing their first NHL game and another four made their first regular-season appearance with the revamped team. The Leafs played a solid road game and got some good goaltending from Vesa Toskala.
Perhaps the most encouraging development on this night came in the third period when the Leafs managed to hold off a spirited comeback attempt from the Wings.
Kulemin scored a beautiful breakaway goal at 7:25 of the final period after a Detroit turnover at the blue-line, giving the Maple Leafs a 3-1 lead that lasted less than two minutes. Tomas Holmstrom scored his second of the night at 9:20 with Matt Stajan in the penalty box for high-sticking and the Wings poured it on while looking for the tie.
Toskala's best late save came on a streaking Mikael Samuelsson with three minutes to play.
Last season, Toronto blew third period leads in several games and the trend continued during an exhibition schedule where the team went 2-5-2. However, on Thursday the Maple Leafs were able to hold off a team that many expect to repeat its championship this season.
The expectations for Toronto are considerably lower. GM Cliff Fletcher and coach Ron Wilson have both vowed to be patient with a young team that is bound to experience some growing pains.
The youngsters fared well in the opener. In addition to the winning goal by Kulemin, first round pick Luke Schenn looked solid in his first NHL game. The 18-year-old defenceman was paired with Tomas Kaberle much of the night and didn't look out of place.
Pavel Kubina and Dominic Moore also scored goals for the Maple Leafs on Thursday while Holmstrom had both in reply for Detroit.
The Red Wings started the evening by raising a banner to the rafters to commemorate their Stanley Cup victory in June. Members of last year's team - including retired players Dominik Hasek and Dallas Drake - were on the ice surface as the 11th championship banner went up at Joe Louis Arena.
It was a ceremony the team had been looking forward to.
"I think it's real important we enjoy the celebration," coach Mike Babcock said before the game. "The celebration's all about last year. Then when we go get our helmets on the bench, it's time to regroup and got refocused on this year."
That plan came off perfectly as Detroit had a quick start, displaying the patented puck-control game that helped it become the Stanley Cup champion last season.
Toskala was the main reason the defending champs didn't get on the board early - although he had some help from a goal post. Daniel Cleary wired a shot that got through Toskala about nine minutes in but the rolling puck hit the post and stayed out.
Kubina opened the scoring on a power play with 25.3 seconds left in the first period. Leafs forward Jiri Tlusty did a nice job of protecting the puck down low before Wings goalie Chris Osgood swept it right on to Kubina's stick. It was in the net pretty quickly.
The Leafs seemed to build confidence as the game wore on. The Toronto forwards were strong on the forecheck and displayed a commitment to Wilson's philosophy of hard work.
Toskala was there whenever the talented Wings broke through. He juggled the puck on an in-close Henrik Zetterberg chance a little over midway through the game before finally catching it. That was his 22nd save.
The teams exchanged goals late in the middle period. Moore made it 2-0 Toronto shortly after a power play had ended at 15:04 by shovelling a loose puck over Osgood. It was his fifth goal in 39 career games as a Maple Leaf and he celebrated by jumping into the arms of his teammates.
Holmstrom drew the Wings closer 84 seconds later with a no-look goal. He had his back to Toskala and knocked a loose puck between his legs and into the goal. They couldn't get the equalizer in the third period.
The Wings know other teams will be gunning for them this season, especially early in the year. As the Leafs showed them, there won't be many easy games.
"In the first 20 games, everybody thinks they're good," said Babcock. "Nothing's been figured out yet, everyone's working hard, everyone's determined. So the games are tougher at the start."
Notes: Detroit has won seven straight Central Division titles ... Toronto is one of two Eastern Conference teams that haven't had a playoff berth since the lockout in 2005. The other is Florida ... Ian White and Anton Stralman were healthy scratches for the Maple Leafs ... Schenn's parents weren't able to attend the game but they'll watch him play at home Saturday against Montreal ... Detroit and Toronto each have 274 all-time wins against each other. They've played to 93 ties.