The new Toronto Maple Leafs ran up against some old ones last night, much to their regret.
Scott Clemmensen, who was in the Maple Leafs system for all of one season and made three game appearances, and Bryan McCabe, who was in Toronto for much longer than that, played starring roles in the Florida Panthers' 4-1 win over the Leafs in a dreary game at the Air Canada Centre last night.
McCabe, who still gets booed every time he touches the puck, set up one of David Booth's two goals, while Clemmensen stopped 42 shots and just missed out on his first shutout of the season.
McCabe capped his night by raising his stick to salute the few thousand fans who booed his selection as the game's third star and then tossed the stick to a young fan in a Panthers sweater.
The loss broke a three-game winning string for the Maple Leafs, who had all the opportunities they needed to secure a win: Six power plays could not produce a goal.
Clemmensen spent the 2007-08 season as an insurance policy for the Leafs, signed to give their Toronto Marlies AHL farm team a veteran goaltender. Thanks to some injuries, he did manage to get in three appearances for the Leafs and then he was let go when his contract expired.
He says he does not harbour any ill will toward the team.
"I loved Toronto," said Clemmensen, 32. "The organization was real good to me. I played for the Marlies mostly, and they were a good group of guys. I still talk to some of those guys.
"My daughter was born in Toronto - she's a dual citizen - so I have an attachment to the city."
Clemmensen was signed by the Panthers last summer, to be Tomas Vokoun's backup after Craig Anderson left for the Colorado Avalanche. Playing time is as scarce in Florida, as it was in Toronto, with 17 appearances this season, but last night marked Clemmensen's second consecutive start.
"With two starts in a row, it's a chance to get your feet under you and get a rhythm," he said. "Those are things you can't simulate in practice. I felt rusty, obviously."
What helped Clemmensen and the Panthers was weathering a strong start by the Leafs. His most important save was on winger Phil Kessel in the opening minutes. Clemmensen made a perfect poke-check on the speedy forward to knock the puck away.
"They came out pretty hard at us," Clemmensen said. "It was a matter of me getting in the rhythm of the game. I felt pretty confident all game because I made some early saves.
"On that breakaway, I made up my mind what to do even before [Kessel]got the puck and I saw him behind our defence. I was able to dictate what he would do."
Booth opened the scoring when Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn coughed up the puck for a breakaway. The 1-0 lead stood up through the second period, until Booth scored again, deflecting McCabe's point shot. Michael Frolik and Jason Garrison had the other Florida goals.
Fredrik Sjostrom scored with 2 minutes 20 seconds left in the third period to spoil Clemmensen's bid for a shutout.
It was the first time Booth has scored two goals in a game this season. He missed almost four months, including two when he could not exercise, after a now-infamous hit by Philadelphia Flyers centre Mike Richards left him with a serious concussion.
NOTES The Toronto Maple Leafs need to be a little more eager around opposing nets if they want their recent improvement to continue, according to the man who guards their own net. "We've got to get a little hungrier when we want to score goals, get more traffic," said J.S. Giguère, who faced 29 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers last night. "We need to try and play a solid 60 minutes." … Giguère did pay tribute to winning goalie Scott Clemmensen, who spends most of his time backing up Panthers' No..1 Tomas Vokoun. "It's tough to be a backup. You have to work hard in practice to be good in games. He was extremely solid."
NEXT Thursday, at Atlanta Thrashers, 7 p.m. (EDT)
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