The Toronto Maple Leafs felt the best way they could help general manager Brian Burke mourn the loss of his son was to beat the provincial rival Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
The Leafs did just that and dedicated their impressive 5-0 victory to 21-year-old Brendan Burke, who was killed along with a friend, Mark A. Reedy, in a traffic accident on Friday afternoon.
The 2004 Jeep Cherokee that Burke and Reedy were in slid into oncoming traffic and crashed into a pickup truck on a snowy highway in Indiana’s Wayne County near the Ohio border. The driver of the pickup truck escaped injury, but both Burke and Reedy were declared dead at the scene.
"We really wanted to win for Brendan, Brian and the whole Burke family," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who has been a close friend of Brian Burke since they attended Providence College together in the early 1970s.
Wilson has known Brendan since he was born.
"I couldn’t possibly imagine the grief [Brian] is feeling," the Leafs coach added.
Prior to the game, Wilson and his players discussed the sombre emotions they would feel before the game started, especially when the Air Canada Centre faithful observed a moment of silence prior to the Canadian national anthem.
The end result, however, was the Leafs putting forth their best outing of the season. Even though Burke was with his family trying to deal with the tragedy, he did text senior vice-president of hockey operations David Nonis a couple of times during the game to find out how the Leafs were making out.
"I’m proud of the players," Wilson said.
The loss snapped the Senators' franchise record 11-game victory string. For the first time all season the usually subdued ACC crowd of 19,246 whooped it up in the third period with a few different chants, including one for the Leafs' new goalie, Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
In his second start, he banked another 30 saves for back-to-back shutouts. He’s the first NHLer to record shutouts in his first two appearances for a new team since Jeff Hackett turned the trick in Oct. 2003.
"It was fun," Giguere said. "From what I hear, [the party atmosphere] hasn’t happened too often this year."
Giguere and Toronto defenceman Francois Beauchemin knew Burke’s son the best because when they won the 2006-07 Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks, they celebrated the championship with Brendan when his father was the Ducks' general manager.
Beauchemin played alongside newcomer Dion Phaneuf and the pair shut down Ottawa’s top line of Jason Spezza, captain Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek.
The two youngest Leafs and closest to Brendan Burke’s age, forward Phil Kessel and defenceman Luke Schenn, each scored twice in the victory. The 22-year-old Kessel hit the 20-goal mark in his 47th game of the season. The 20-year-old Schenn, who has struggled at times this season, played his best game this year.
"We mentioned before the game that we wanted to get the win for [Brendan Burke]," Schenn said. "It worked out."
Wilson and the players both have heaped praise on newcomers Giguere, Fredrik Sjostrom and Phaneuf. Giguere has provided leadership and confidence. The speedy Sjostrom has been a stingy penalty killer and played well on a checking line with Rickard Wallin and Nikolai Kulemin. Phaneuf has been a strong performer and provided positive leadership. He also has been a good influence on Schenn.
The Leafs exhibited good puck movement, a strong physical game and swift transition to build up a 3-0 advantage in the first period and 4-0 in the second period.
Tyler Bozak scored the other Toronto goal late in the first period.
Ottawa goalie Brian Elliott, who had won his previous nine starts, was relieved after 40 minutes in favour of Pascal Leclaire who hadn’t played since suffering a concussion last month.
The Leafs outshot Ottawa 37-30.