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Ottawa runs into a determined Leaf side

Ottawa was due to lose, no question. But I’m sure Leaf fans are thinking…if only the lights had gone out in Jersey Friday night with three minutes to go, we’d be talking about a Leaf team that has given up 1 goal in 177 minutes of hockey against some top-end teams since the much-discussed arrival of Dion Phaneuf.

That said, we ought not get ahead of ourselves. We’ve posted often here about the Leafs’ propensity for a putting in a good effort against a top team, followed by a string of less-than-sterling efforts.

But last night, they were clearly inspired, and they ran over a team that, again, was due for a letdown game.

Some post-game thoughts:

• It’s always easy, when a defenseman scores a goal, to jump up and say, “he played really well”. But while I still believe it would have been best for Schenn to spend some time with the Marlies, if Phaneuf’s presence gives Schenn a dose of confidence, then the deal will have a nice after-shock

• Let’s not expect Giguerre to do this all the time. Maybe he will become the old Giguerre, or maybe he will return to playing the way he did with Anaheim in recent times. The tendency will be to suggest he start most of the games, and maybe he should. But I wouldn’t kick Gustavsson to the curb. You can’t buy experience and he still needs to play. But let’s hope Giguerre’s presence will in fact help Gustavsson’s development

• I’m as pleased as any Leaf fan that Kessel is scoring some goals and putting up some points. One of the “game analysts” tonight went on about how much the Bruins miss Kessel now. Wow! Things change quickly in sports. When the Leafs had a chance to make a playoff run earlier, Kessel was very quiet and unproductive over a long period of time. The Bruins at the time were playing well. Let’s see what we’re all saying in two months (or two years) before we show the kind of short-sighted analysis an ex-Leaf-player/commentator did last night

• This is no knock on Kessel. He is an elite offensive talent and the Leafs need him to be an impact player. But in the years to come, he will need to become a complete player, a la Modano and Yzerman as their careers unfolded. And, the Bruins will have two shots at getting a first-round choice. I think the Bruins would make the same trade again in a heartbeat, and so would the Leafs, probably. It may work for both teams, long-term

• Whatever happens the rest of the way, it really will make for an interesting summer, as Leaf fans look forward to training camp in September. Is it indeed possible that Phaneuf will bring an attitude that the Leafs haven’t had for a while? Can his presence—and the effect he has on those around him—make this a very different team next season and beyond, in terms of mental toughness? Will others now be able to shift into more comfortable roles—I’m thinking of Beauchemin, Schenn and Gunnarsson, maybe even Kaberle.

• I’ll say it again. Phaneuf will be the next captain of this team. That announcement will come this summer.

• Most nights Bozak makes plays that demonstrate he can have a future here. He’s already good on draws, and he has hands and vision.

• I’m not sure where the goals will come from, long-term, but if they give up a lot less next season, the playoffs become more realistic

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