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Originally posted at http://www.sportsblognetw...ire-leaf-nation-rejoices/

The Toronto Maple Leafs were finally able to exorcise some demons in a thrilling 5-4 come from behind victory over the Nashville Predators at the Air Canada Center last night, and the Leaf Nation faithful collectively breathed a sigh of relief. The Leafs team that started the season 4-0-0 has been found, and the search has been called off.

The 4-0-0 Leafs were fast, aggressive on the puck, especially on the penalty kill, and moved their legs. The Leafs, after a Brett Lebda blue line giveaway that led to a shorthanded goal by Marcel Goc, stuck to coach Ron Wilson’s game plan and kept skating. This led to a slashing call on Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter, followed up by another Nashville blue liner, Kevin Klein, clearing the puck over the glass.

On the ensuing 5 on 3 power play, Kris Versteeg wired home a wrist shot after walking to the top of the circle to get the Leafs within two. With Klein’s penalty almost done, Suter was sent back to the box for hooking Nazem Kadri, and Versteeg, again playing the point on the power play, one timed a beautiful Clarke MacArthur pass for his second goal in just under a minute to pull the Leafs within one.

The Leafs continued to press, and with the energy line out a bit of poetic justice occurred when a Keith Aulie slapshot that found the mesh was waived off due to a questionable goaltender interference call. With both Colton Orr and Mike Brown in front of Nashville goalie Pekke Rinne, neither made any meaningful contact with him, and neither was assessed a penalty on the play. Consider us even for the goal given to Colton Orr against the Florida Panthers earlier this season. On the Predators counter attack, Patric Hornqvist slid into Leaf goalie JS Giguere and was called for interference.

Mikhail Grabovski, who made a horrible giveaway in the first period that Martin Erat capitalized on to give the Predators a 3-0 lead at the time, managed to redeem himself by getting open in front of the net on the power play. MacArthur fed him a cross-crease pass and he put a nice move on Rinne to backhand it past him for the tying goal.

The Leafs managed to draw a sixth consecutive penalty as Joel Ward was sent off for hooking, and a lucky bounce on a MacArthur centering attempt ended up on Kulemin’s stick, and he made no mistake, depositing it into the back of the net to give the Leafs a 5-4 lead, a lead they would not relinquish.

Nashville pressed hard in the third, forcing Giguere to make some big saves early, including one that tweaked his groin, as he pulled himself out of the game with under 10 minutes to go. With Jonas Gustvasson in cold and the Predators with back to back power plays, some key work by Kris Versteeg and Mike Brown shut down the Predators offense. With the goalie pulled, Versteeg was denied the empty net hat trick as Predators captain Shea Weber was forced to hook him with 12 seconds remaining, and the Leafs broke an 8 game winless skid.

Everything that the Leafs had been struggling with went right last night. They had given up a power play goal in every game on that 8 game skid, but the Predators were denied on their only two opportunities. After blowing a 5 on 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning last week, the Leafs cashed in on two of them last night, and exploded for 4 power play goals in total, going 50% on the power play for the night, though the final power play lasted just 12 seconds.

The Leafs got big saves at the right times to keep them in this one, and kept their legs moving, using their speed to force the Predators into taking penalties. Phil Kessel was a dangerous presence, firing several shots on goal and getting two assists on the night. Kris Versteeg showed us the player we thought we were getting from Chicago with good performances both offensively and defensively. Ron Wilson, the subject of much scrutiny as of late, was able to rally his troops and execute on special teams, even when it seemed all was lost.

Clarke MacArthur, with a 3 assist night, keeps proving to be the steal of the 2010 free agent group as he leads the club with 16 points in 17 games played this season. They finally got offensive contributions from the defense as Tomas Kaberle picked up two assists and Luke Schenn scored his first of the season on a beautiful play to end the first period. Nazem Kadri played well on the power play with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel, drawing a penalty and picking up his first career point, an assist on Kris Versteeg’s first power play goal of the game.

The Leafs now await the league’s worst defense in the New Jersey Devils as they come to town on Thursday night. The Leafs are just 3 points out of 8th and have a game in hand on most teams ahead of them in the standings. Hopefully this can be a major confidence boost to a team that has been struggling to score goals and struggling to find their identity early on in the season.

After going without a goal in his first 11 games, Mikhail Grabovski now has 4 in his last 5. Nikolai Kulemin continues to get rewarded for going to the dirty areas as he is starting to show an increased offensive presence, with 5 goals and 4 assists on the season. Kessel has 3 points in his last two games and has been very dangerous with the addition of Nazem Kadri to his line. Luke Schenn led all Leafs players with 6 shots on goal last night and has been getting more comfortable in trying to get in on the offense.

These are all positive signs going forward, and it’s clear the Leafs will need to carry this momentum into Thursday’s game to try and get something rolling to stay in contention. GM Brian Burke has been active, having been seen at both the recent Blackhawks / Ducks game and the recent Bruins / Devils game, so a trade could be imminent, and only winning will stay Burke’s hand. The team can also look forward to the returns of both Colby Armstrong and captain Dion Phaneuf in the coming weeks.

For now, let’s all just enjoy this victory, as who knows when the next one will come.
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