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High-scoring Maple Leafs turn back Rangers, clock

With back-to-back wins to start season, future looking bright for franchise giving nod to past

by Dave Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs logo and the large three-word message, in glistening stainless steel letters, were installed on the wall outside the team's Air Canada Centre dressing room on the eve their 2017-18 home opener on Saturday:

HONOUR PRIDE COURAGE

There is no suggestion, even reading between the lines, that the Maple Leafs would begin this season filling their opponents' net with a shovel -- 15 goals in two games following an 8-5 road-hockey-style defeat of the New York Rangers.

 

[RELATED: Maple Leafs recover to beat Rangers]

 

The three words served as the motto of Conn Smythe, owner of the franchise from 1927-61 and the architect of a dynasty that won the Stanley Cup five times during the 1940s.

Behind the grille of this sign is a simulated Cup-engraved compilation of Toronto's 13 championship teams and the names of every player on them, from the Toronto Arenas of 1918 through the Maple Leafs of 1967.

Team president Brendan Shanahan won't take credit for the eye-catching message, which is the first thing players see when they leave the dressing room. But Shanahan, a Toronto native who grew up a Maple Leafs fan and came to the organization early in 2014, is leading the efforts to restore the luster of a franchise that for many years was left to tarnish.

"Conn Smythe wanted something that resembled the soldiers that he fought with in both world wars," Shanahan said down the hallway from the sign a few hours before the win against the Rangers. "Smythe's troops fought with honor, pride and courage and he wanted his hockey teams to play that way."

Maple Leafs players were happy with the two points they got Saturday, if not necessarily how they had to scramble back to earn them, seeing a 5-1 lead vanish before scoring the final three goals in the third period.

"You don't see 8-5 games very often, especially in the NHL, it's more of a junior hockey score," said forward Zach Hyman, who scored twice. "But a win's a win. We have to be a lot better defensively. The puck's not always going to go in the net the way it has the past couple games."

Video: NYR@TOR: Hyman capitalizes on turnover for nifty goal

This was a bit of a throwback to the wide-open goal-fests of yesterday's NHL.

There were few reminders of that era, or anything of the Maple Leafs' more distant glories, when Shanahan arrived in Toronto on April 11, 2014. He began to change that, framing photos of team legends and their Stanley Cup triumphs, displaying them the length of the corridor outside the dressing rooms and down a hallway leading to the ice-level media center.

If the Maple Leafs' Legends Row wasn't his idea, he has pushed it along. Shanahan was in the president's office five months when the first three statues of now 14 team icons were installed; on Thursday, likenesses of Charlie Conacher, Red Kelly, Frank Mahovlich and Wendel Clark were added to lineup outside the arena.

A last season's home opener, Shanahan and his management team organized the retirement of 16 numbers that previously had been honored. Those, in addition to Dave Keon's No. 14, joined the No. 5 of Bill Barilko, retired in 1951, and the No. 6 of Irvine "Ace" Bailey, from 1934.

One day earlier, the Maple Leafs unveiled a list of their top 100 players of all time, as voted by fans and a selection committee.

Kelly, Keon and Clark were among those at Air Canada Centre on Saturday, an entertaining flurry of goals that came on the heels of a season-opening 7-2 win at the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.

For the Maple Leafs, Legends Row is a centerpiece of its nod to a rich history and stars of the past, something that Shanahan, general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Mike Babcock hope rubs off on a team that features eight players under the age of 24.

"While you sort of have that responsibility, you want to make sure that things are done the right way," Shanahan said of the statues and the team's broader celebration of its past. "We knew with an organization like this, one that's been around so long, that many come before you and many will come after you. To me and to Lou and to Mike, making sure that our alumni understand how much they're appreciated is a crucial part of doing things the right way here."

Shanahan hopes that the players on his roster understand what it means to play for the Maple Leafs, notwithstanding the fact that the eldest player, 38-year-old Patrick Marleau, was 12-plus years from birth the last time Toronto won the Stanley Cup.

"I think they do get it," Shanahan said. "I think they hear words like Wendel said on Legends Row, about players seeing what it's like to play here, and how the fans will reward you for playing with that pride. …

"I always knew that Red Kelly was a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman turned forward, but then you hear that he became a forward who led the Leafs in playoff scoring through four (1960s) Stanley Cup years. That brings a 90-year-old man back into our dressing room and you say, 'Wow.'"

Video: NYR@TOR: Bozak buries Gardiner's smooth dish

The wow factor is alive and very well in Toronto this season for a team that already is a fascinating story for its firepower.

No, Shanahan says, Toronto management isn't trying to keep a lid on the frenzy in Leafs Nation.

"Enthusiasm is great. Having hope and expectations is great," he said. "But I think Mike (Babcock) does a great job of just being honest with our players and fans. I don't think Mike tries to temper the enthusiasm, I just think he's realistic in how difficult it is to have success in this League."

With this season wet behind the ears, you will forgive Maple Leafs fans if, as they count 15 goals and two wins, they're not listening to a word of it.

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