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Article:Norris Division Challenge

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Saturday, February 9, 2008 is a big day for Canadian sports fans. This day is all about hockey. It’s Hockey Day in Canada and first up the Detroit Red Wings visits the Toronto Maple Leafs for an Original Six showdown.

Detroit is coming off a terrible loss to the Los Angeles Kings last Thursday. Giving up 4 goals in the third period and loosing 5-3. Chris Osgood wasn’t sharp down the stretch but neither was the defense.

On a high from their last victory, the Maple Leafs had played perhaps their best game of the season downing the Montreal Canadiens 4-2. With one of the worst records in the NHL this season, they had been struggling to find consistency.

The ownership had had its difficulties this season as well. The firing of their General Manager has left many decisions regarding the team’s future up in the air.

Stars on both teams are shining bright. Mats Sundin has 22 goals with 35 assists for 57 points overall. Henrik Zetterberg has 33 goals with 35 assists for 68 points and Pavel Datsyuk has 18 goals with 48 assists for 66 points.

Nicklas Lidstrom leads all NHL defensemen with 6 goals and 46 assists for 52 points and a +/- of 43.

The afternoon tilt of these Original Six franchises would set up to be a great game. After all, the two cities are only 375 kilometers (235 miles) apart and both teams were heated rivals in the old Norris Division (Black and Blue Division). This would be the only meeting this year short of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The game started with even play by both teams. They were obviously getting a feeling for the other’s weak spots. Darcy Tucker would break the tension by scoring on a deflection to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead at the 9-minute mark.

Play continued as Detroit out shot Toronto 10-7. Toronto would have the better play, however, as Vesa Toskala was great in net.

The 2nd period saw a change in intensity as Detroit turned up the pressure. Toskala remained dominant but Detroit was rewarded for their hard play almost 17 minutes in with a goal from Nicklas Lidstrom. The game remained even as the 2nd period ended and the Leafs realized they had dodged a couple close calls.

Detroit’s ability to totally control play was thwarted by the Maple Leafs. Leafs fans were jubilant as their team got quality chances in the 3rd and they were taking away time and space from the Detroit stars.

Goals were exchanged 2minutes and 17 seconds apart. Mikael Samuelsson would deflect a Nicklas Lidstrom shot from the point and Mats Sundin would score on an assist from Pavel Kubina, respectively.

Big rushes by both teams in the waning minutes of the 3rd period would decide nothing and the game would go to overtime.

Four on four hockey is excellent whenever you get the chance to see it. The North American ice surface becomes cavernous with two less players and this opportunity to enjoy it wouldn’t last long.

The Red Wings had the first rush with nothing materializing. The Wings would then turn the puck over and give Toronto the break they needed. Dominic Hasek would make a spectacular move to disrupt the chance but in doing so drop his stick (Hasek has a bad habit of releasing his hockey stick) . Moments later (1:02 into OT) Nik Antropov would score on a scrambling, defenseless Dominic Hasek.

Toronto would win a close one. Well fought on both sides. Vesa Toskala would improve his record against the Wings to 6-1-1. He leads the NHL in this stat along with GAA of 1.43 when facing the Wings.

Detroit will have to regroup after two loses to sub-par teams. They will realize that it wasn’t terrible to lose but as they evaluate their effort it might raise some flags.

This was a great win for the Leafs. The new players brought up to change the atmosphere around the locker room have worked. They have two quality wins following a tough shutout loss. The powers that be may realize that they have a good product after all.

Next opponent:

Detroit Red Wings entertain the Anaheim Ducks at 3:30 P.M. Sunday, February 10, 2008; Joe Louis Arena

Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 P.M. Wednesday, February 13, 2008; HSBC Arena

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