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Remodeled Leafs look like winners

by Sergei J. Feldman
NEW YORK -- A year ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs started the season by finding ways to lose. Close games, overtime games, games in which they couldn't hold leads -- the Leafs lost them all in an 0-7-1 start that effectively doomed their season before Halloween.

But as they showed Friday night, this is a new season.

The Leafs led the New York Rangers 3-1 after two periods of the Blueshirts' home opener, and only Henrik Lundqvist's heroics kept the home side within hailing distance. But the play completely turned around in the third period -- the Rangers got two goals by Brian Boyle to pull even and pressured Jean-Sebastien Giguere unsuccessfully before the game went to overtime.

A year ago, the Leafs probably would have found a way to lose in overtime, take their point and go home. Instead, Phil Kessel's power-play goal gave them a 4-3 victory and a 4-0-0 start -- their best in 17 years.

Talk about turning over a new, eh, leaf.

"Last year, it's an entirely different team," coach Ron Wilson said. "If we knew what would've happened in the banking system, the stock market wouldn't have crashed. It's irrelevant now."

Toronto, which hasn't made the playoffs, looks more and more like the team general manager Brian Burke wanted to assemble when he arrived two years ago: Tough to play against. Gritty. Hard-working.

And composed when things go bad, as they did in the third period against the Rangers.

"Just calm down," Wilson said, referring to his rallying cry when the game switched momentum. That composure translated to Kessel's game-winner, one of two he scored on the night.

Burke gave up a king's ransom (two first-rounders, one of whom turned into No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin, and a second-rounder) to Boston for Kessel, who played like a star at the Garden -- he was all over the ice creating chances when he wasn't putting the puck in the net.

But the Leafs are also getting production from other sources.

Clarke MacArthur, picked up as a free agent after Atlanta walked away from his arbitration award, has 5 goals through four games. The Leafs are also getting production from the defense, where Tomas Kaberle, Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek have combined for nine points. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson have been solid in goal.

"We have a lot of character in here," Kessel said.

Getting contributions from everyone has been making all the difference in the world. But what has going undefeated so far meant?

"Basically, that we just had a good start," Kessel said. "We have to keep building. We gave up a two-goal lead there and have to work on that now and keep going."
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