TORONTO – It was a night to remember for three Toronto Maple Leafs players.
For another Leaf, it was probably an evening he’d rather forget.
The Leafs lost a wild 7-5 affair to the visiting Boston Bruins on Saturday night, but the hosts gave the hometown fans a few things to talk about on the way home.
For starters, right-winger Niklas Hagman, who had missed the previous 13 games due to a concussion, returned to action and scored his 20th goal of the season and 100th of his NHL career.
“Stuff like that, it’s nice to have,” said Hagman, who was injured after being elbowed by New York Islanders defenceman Brendan Witt on Feb. 26. “It was good to score my 20th and 100th in my first game back…now I don’t have to wait and wait every game (to set the milestone).”
Then there’s left-winger Alexei Ponikarovsky, who scored his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season and added an assist against the Bruins, to set career highs in goals (23), assists (35) and points (58).
“It means a lot,” said Ponikarovsky, who’s riding a five-game point streak and has 14 points in his past seven games. “It’s a milestone, it feels great, I’m happy to break that (personal best).”
And don’t forget defenceman Jay Harrison – even though the Leafs almost did. Drafted 82nd overall by Toronto in 2001, Harrison spent six seasons with the Maple Leafs organization, mostly in the American Hockey League with the St. John’s Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies from 2002-08.
But he only got into 13 NHL games during that span, and decided last summer to head over to Europe and sign with Zug in the Swiss Elite League. When the Swiss season ended, he signed with the Leafs for the remainder of the season. And he didn’t waste any time getting back, flying from Zurich to Montreal and then on to Toronto on Friday night.
“It feels great to be here,” said Harrison, a native of nearby Oshawa, Ont. “It was real nice to hear the Canadian anthem before the game, it gave me chills, and then the crowd started giving it…. It wasn’t a problem to get up for this game.
“It doesn’t happen very often (returning to an NHL team after leaving it). I’m very anxious to make the most of this opportunity. I’ve been waiting six or seven years to get some games up here.”
Finally, there was a Maple Leaf who won’t remember the night quite as fondly as Hagman, Ponikarovsky or Harrison. Rookie goaltender Justin Pogge, who had a solid outing in relief of Curtis Joseph in Buffalo on Friday night, surrendered six goal on 20 shots against Boston before being pulled midway through the second period.
“Tonight I sucked, but I’ll come back hard tomorrow,” said Pogge, whose NHL record falls to 1-4-1 with a 4.35 goals-against average and .844 save percentage. “I’m disappointed in myself, I know I can do better.
“I’m definitely not happy with the way I’m playing. But it wasn’t all bad, I made a some good saves, and I’ve got to go back and work hard in practice tomorrow.”
And, despite his rocky introduction to the NHL this season, Pogge tried to maintain a positive outlook.
“Just being up here (in NHL), seeing those calibre of shots, is good for my confidence,” said the 22-year-old.