Borje Salming’s presence lifts Maple Leafs in win over Canucks

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Borje Salming was a positive influence on the Maple Leafs for so many Saturday nights.

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Just by heading to center ice to shoot a puck for this one, he was able to get the building back on its feet and – eventually – inspire his team to win.

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The Leafs looked to be falling for a second straight night in the presence of their beloved defenseman, but fittingly, it was the Swedes who helped rally for a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

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Head coach Sheldon Keefe was at one point hoping for back-to-back home games, which Salming’s brave appearance as he battles Lou Gehrig’s illness would give them a boost.

“Anytime you have your own (honoured) alumni and you see the reaction from the fans, see the reaction from our players, you feel part of the family, part of the legacy,” Keefe said. “You see how important and impact players can be on our city.

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“Borje is obviously a legend here. It’s one thing to see their name (on an old No. 21 banner at Scotiabank Arena) on Legends Row or to see the person here and at this stage of their life. It’s a different era for Leaf fans, but it’s still here.

“It’s not just to honor Borje’s legacy, it’s all part of their own legacy and you want to be remembered.”

Former Toronto Maple Leaf Borje Salming is honored during a pre-game ceremony before the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on November 11, 2022 in Toronto.
Former Toronto Maple Leaf Borje Salming, with his wife Pia, is honored during a pre-game ceremony before the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on November 11, 2022 in Toronto. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

It would have been perfect had Keefe’s token selection of six starting Swedes paid off after being the last Leafs to hit Salming as he and his family walked off the ice after a touching video tribute to his two decades in the Gardens . time. Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau, Salming’s former roommate, did his part for the opener by sending Oliver Ekman-Larson for Salming’s ceremonial handover with William Nylander.

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That Tre Kronor vibe only started halfway through the game when Calle Jarnkrok and Pierre Engvall finished a good forecheck with help from Timothy Liljegren.

But the first came against Toronto’s revamped fourth line. Engvall loses the tie, the Canucks control and Bo Horvat escapes Justin Holl enough to tip a Luke Schenn shot.

After Nylander and Denis Malgin missed breaks, Michael Bunting was awarded a retaliatory penalty which JT Miller converted on a screen.

Toronto, with Keefe smashing Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner and John Tavares-Nylander combos, was getting no early traction, until Matthews buried Marner’s feed under Spencer Martin’s crossbar.

After Engvall’s goal, another push sent defender Jordie Benn pounce for his first goal as a Leaf as he replaced an injured TJ Brodie.

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Toronto’s penalty killers were overworked in the final 22 minutes of the game, beating three minors.

Given the choice between Erik Kallgren back-to-back, playing Matt Murray a little ahead of schedule with a healing groin injury or risking raw rookie Keith Petruzzelli, Keefe bet Kallgren still had some fuel and new lines would generate about 5 counter-5 offense.

The night before, Kallgren did a believable job against the Penguins before allowing a weak game-winning goal. Murray is now ready to start against his former team, where he won two Stanley Cups, in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Ilya Samsonov, who played so well in place of Murray last month, still has a knee injury.

Kallgren, who made 28 saves, now has two wins in eight games, including three overtime losses, but he’s not the only reason the Leafs have lost three games this week.

In addition to their even strength in a dry spell, the penalty kill and power play are scuffles. That means the defensive lapses that are still prevalent in their game can hurt even more.

“The numbers are what they are (0.888 save percentage), but just looking at how he moves, how he reacts, to me he gains confidence and looks stronger. I didn’t hesitate to put it back on,” Keefe said.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to think of that goal (by Brock McGinn of Pittsburgh). I’m glad he takes ownership, that’s what you want, but let’s go beyond that.

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