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Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Martin Marincin battles for a puck with Ottawa Senators right wing Tyler Ennis during the third period at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 2, 2019.Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Twenty-five seconds. That is all it took for the wind to get sucked out of Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday night. Cheers for John Tavares, the Maple Leafs’ newly named captain, had barely receded when Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk slipped a puck past Freddie Andersen and the home team trailed.

It was an inauspicious beginning for a team that hopes to be playing in June. This was not the manner to christen a magical journey so much as it was a voyage of the damned.

Of course, these were the Senators Toronto was playing. There could be no more friendly opponent or willing opening-night victim in the NHL.

The Senators tried hard, they really did, but quickly got ground down like yesterday’s chuck at the supermarket. The Maple Leafs grabbed the lead with goals five minutes apart in the second period, gave it up, and then pulled ahead 4-2 by the end of the second intermission. Auston Matthews scored both the tying and go-ahead goals, the second on a power play. With it, he became only the fourth player in league history to score on opening night in each of his first four seasons.

The blue-and-white clad fans who filled the rink went home happy. It was a sloppy victory for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Toronto failed to score on three power plays in the first 10 minutes. It gave up another goal but was fortunate to have it wiped away by an offside penalty.

It ended 5-3.

As usual, well-heeled fans took their seats near the ice shortly before the game. They are buttoned up, and more quiet than the Raptors’ boisterous followers. Socially, watching the Maple Leafs at home is the opposite of the Raptors game. In fact, it’s a good thing they share a building, or the complex could get a complex.

The ice was bathed in soft blue light as the crowd poured into the arena. Fans walked through the doors beneath an arch of blue and white balloons, as though heading into a high school dance.

The gathering applauded politely during pregame ceremonies as the players were introduced. The decibels rose when alternate captains Mitch Marner, Matthews and Morgan Rielly skated out one after another.

Fans rose and erupted into a deafening roar when, as a surprise to nobody, Tavares came out wearing the captain’s 'C’ on the left front of his jersey.

Standing at a lectern as he addressed the media between the first and second periods, general manager Kyle Dubas proclaimed the 29-year-old a “great choice."

Tavares, who served as the captain of the New York Islanders, learned he would be given the role on Monday. The team brought him, his wife and family in to share the moment. He found out when his three-year-old son suddenly emerged wearing a Maple Leafs sweater that carried a ‘C’.

“I will never forget that moment,” Tavares, who grew up in Mississauga and dreamed to play for the Maple Leafs, said.

Dubas said Rielly will serve as the permanent alternate captain and that Marner and Matthews will rotate in the other position.

“It is a big honour,” Matthews said. “I am happy to be wearing a letter in general.”

The recent revelation that Matthews was charged with disorderly conduct this summer “didn’t affect our decision-making whatsoever," Dubas said.

The Leafs fielded a team with 13 new players but one of them was notably absent. Jason Spezza missed what would have been his first opening night in a Toronto uniform. The Maple Leafs decided to sit the 36-year-old against his long-time team. Nicholas Shore, a fellow summer free-agent signee, drew in as the fourth-line centre.

The official explanation from the organization was that Spezza, who has been doing this since the 1700s, needed to brush up on his penalty killing.

“I know it was disappointing for Jason,” Dubas said.

Before the game, fans perused $20 Mitch Marner socks and $259 Tavares jerseys in souvenir stores, and washed down $20, foot-long hot dogs with $14 draft beers and $34 glasses of Sterling Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

Dressed in a Tavares sweater, Vince Diccone stood with a cold beer and waxed on about the new captain. As a teen, Diccone played for the Markham Islanders against Tavares’s Marlies.

“He was awesome back then and he is more awesome now,” Diccone said.

Diccone said this season feels different to him.

“We have the personnel to get it done,” he said. “It is what the city needs. We got a championship from the Raptors and now we need one in hockey.”

After a terrible start, the game turned into a steamrolling. The Maple Leafs outshot the Senators, 42-26, and also got goals from Frederik Gautier, Trevor Moore and Ilya Mikheyev. Defenceman Tyson Barrie contributed two assists and Andersen was adequate, recording 23 saves. It was an ugly romp but a win nonetheless.

It will be months before we know if opening night proves to be the shoving-off point for a celebration a half-century in the making or the prelude to another impossible mission.

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