Af­ter storm­ing out to big lead, Maple Leafs let Rangers tie things up, then mo­tor on to vic­tory in wild home opener

Sunday Sports - - FRONT PAGE - TERRY KOSHAN tkoshan@post­ @koshtoron­to­sun

There’s a shiny new slo­gan that greets the Maple Leafs when they walk out of their dress­ing room at the Air Canada Cen­tre to head out to the ice. Hon­our. Pride. Courage. Those three words, printed in gleam­ing steel, are ac­com­pa­nied by the Leafs logo. Un­der­neath are the ros­ters of each of the Leafs’ Stan­ley Cup-win­ning teams.

For a time on Satur­day night dur­ing the Leafs’ home opener, coach Mike Bab­cock might have wanted to add a cou­ple of ex­ple­tives to the sign, the brain­child of team pres­i­dent Bren­dan Shana­han.

Thrill-a-minute hockey might be a hell of a lot of fun if you’re a fan who loves to be en­ter­tained, but Bab­cock was re­minded his group, of­fen­sively ex­plo­sive as it is, needs im­prove­ment with­out the puck.

The Leafs beat the New York Rangers 8-5 — scor­ing at least seven goals for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game to start the 2017-18 reg­u­lar sea­son — but only af­ter blow­ing a four-goal lead, play­ing dis­or­ga­nized hockey as the Rangers tied the game 5-5 in the sec­ond pe­riod.

“It’s kind of fun, eh?” Bab­cock said, sar­cas­ti­cally, to a ques­tion about run-and-gun hockey. “Nah, it’s dumb. We had lots of guys take their turn at turn­ing it over and be­ing silly and do­ing crazy things.

“Say­ing all that, we also had a lot of guys play real hard at times and do things right. It’s not like we don’t know how.”

Be­fore a crowd of 19,621, Tyler Bozak scored the win­ner at 7:17 of the third pe­riod on a pass from Jake Gar­diner. Power-play goals by Leo Ko­marov and Nazem Kadri that fol­lowed were enough to put away the Rangers and give the Leafs a 2-0 record with the Chicago Black­hawks ar­riv­ing for a visit on Mon­day.

The Rangers’ re­cov­ery in the mid­dle pe­riod fol­lowed an open­ing 20 min­utes dur­ing which the Leafs did lit­tle wrong.

Even when New York got a power-play goal from de­fence­man Kevin Shat­tenkirk in the fi­nal minute of the first to get the Rangers within three goals of the Leafs, there wasn’t the feel­ing Toronto was go­ing to be over­run.

Lit­tle won­der. The Leafs’ five goals in the first pe­riod were two short of the team record of seven goals in one pe­riod, set in Jan­uary 1971 in a game against Detroit.

The Leafs scored early, of­ten and got goals from some un­usual sources.

There was vet­eran Do­minic Moore, in the lineup to re­place Eric Fehr, tip­ping a Nikita Zait­sev shot past Hen­rik Lundqvist at 2:30.

The Rangers an­swered just over a minute later when J.T. Miller scored, but the Leafs then reeled off four con­sec­u­tive goals to take a 5-1 lead.

Zach Hy­man got his first of two, putting forth a fine sec­ond ef­fort to beat Lundqvist on a fore­hand deke at 5:34.

Less than six min­utes later, Gar­diner made like Bobby Orr as he sliced through the Rangers on a power play, even­tu­ally scor­ing on Lundqvist’s short side.

Zait­sev then went short side three min­utes later and Hy­man soon af­ter got his sec­ond.

Gone was Lundqvist — who had a ca­reer .903 save per­cent­age against the Leafs go­ing into the game — to start the sec­ond pe­riod af­ter he al­lowed five goals on 17 shots. In came backup On­drej Pav­elec, who suf­fered through a tough 201617 sea­son in the Win­nipeg Jets or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The Leafs, who chased Jets starter Steve Ma­son in Win­nipeg in the sea­son opener on Wed­nes­day, had it in the bag, right? No.

The Rangers carved into the Leafs’ lead, scor­ing three times in a span of less than seven min­utes in the sec­ond pe­riod to send the clubs to the sec­ond in­ter­mis­sion tied 5-5.

How does Bab­cock work to get some of the de­fen­sive lapses to stop from oc­cur­ring?

“Talk about it,” Bab­cock said. “I think we have a good process go­ing. I like our group, I like the peo­ple, I like the com­mit­ment to do­ing good things.

“Just be­cause it doesn’t go the way you want it to some­times, it does not mean they are not try­ing to do good things. I think we will get good lessons out of this game and we will get ready for re­ally good Chicago team.”


Maple Leafs cen­tre Do­minic Moore cel­e­brates his goal af­ter open­ing the scor­ing in the first pe­riod against the New York Rangers last night at the Air Canada Cen­tre.

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