Leafs spoil Red Wings' party
The party was planned to perfection, the invitations sent out to honoured guests and the stage set for a celebration.
But the Toronto Maple Leafs ruined everything.
The Leafs earned a surprising 3-2 victory over Detroit on Thursday, spoiling a memorable night for the Red Wings while at the same time helping coach Ron Wilson win in his debut behind Toronto's bench.
Prior to the opening face-off, the Red Wings celebrated their 2008 NHL championship in a special banner-raising ceremony. Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio were among the former Red Wing greats who helped carry Detroit's 11th Stanley Cup banner onto the ice before it was raised to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena.
Detroit beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games of last season's Stanley Cup final to win its fourth championship since 1997. The Red Wings are trying to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since winning back-to-back championships in 1997 and 1998.
Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala was outstanding, stopping 35 of 37 shots, and Toronto rookies Luke Schenn and Nikolai Kulemin looked solid in their NHL debuts.
Kulemin's third-period goal stood up as the winner, and Schenn, Toronto's top defensive prospect, looked poised as he took regular shifts and logged over 17 minutes of ice time.
"I didn't get too nervous, I was excited more than anything. … I tried to keep calm, took a few deep breaths and I was fine after I got a couple of shifts out of the way," the 18-year-old Schenn told Hockey Night in Canada.
Wilson said he could not have asked for a better result to start to his coaching career in Toronto.
"This is one of the more satisfying wins I've ever had," said the new Leafs coach. "I've had some really great teams come into Detroit and you're hanging on for dear life and if you can win a game in a shootout, you consider yourself lucky.
"For us tonight, it was kind of a special night. I'm really proud of everybody on the team. They were outstanding."
Wings coach Mike Babcock didn't think that the pre-game ceremony was a distraction for his team.
"I don't accept that," said Babcock. "Bottom line is we found out tonight what level the NHL is played at."
The Leafs took a conservative approach in the first period, playing a trapping style that frustrated the Detroit forwards.
The tactic paid off as the Leafs jumped out to a 1-0 lead with 26 seconds left in the period while on the power play. Detroit goalie Chris Osgood's horrendous clearing attempt landed on the stick of Toronto's Pavel Kubina who easily potted the puck home.
Toronto doubled its advantage at 15:04 of the second period thanks to some hard work by Dominic Moore. After battling for the puck behind the net, the Leafs forward fought his way out front and tucked the puck into the roof of the net on his third rebound-attempt off a point shot.
Detroit answered just over a minute later when Tomas Holmstrom fought off Leafs defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo in front of the net before tipping the puck between the pads of Toskala.
Toronto padded its lead at 7:25 of the third courtesy of Kulemin. The Russian forward, playing in his first ever NHL game, intercepted an errant Detroit pass at the Red Wings' blue-line and broke in alone on Osgood before beating him with a quick wrist shot.
Again, the Red Wings fought back and made it a one-goal game two minutes later when Holmstrom netted his second goal of the game, this time on a wrist shot.
But the Toronto defence held tight and kept Detroit off the scoreboard the rest of the way.
"There's a lot of talk about us and how our team might not be very good this year," said Leafs forward John Mitchell. "We came out and showed we're going to be hard-working team. They're a really good team and we beat them."
With files from Canadian Press