Thursday, October 04, 2007

Picking up where we all left off..

While the season officially got underway on the weekend with the Union Jack version of opening night, Wednesday evening felt much more familiar for North America's hockey fans.

The NHL returned to the ice for regular season action from four locations Wednesday, with two games seeming to automatically return to a playoff like atmosphere.

While Montreal opened up the 2007-08 campaign with a 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes in Raleigh, North Carolina and the jet lagged and injury riddled Ducks lost a Western conference rematch with the Red Wings 3-2, the real action took place elsewhere.

The Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars renewed acquaintances Wednesday, traditionally a high tempo and always entertaining match up, the season opener took a while to heat up. The Stars let the Avalanche pick up a three goal lead going into the third period, before the Stars began to battle back to make things interesting. In the end the Stars came up on the short end of the 4-3 score as the Avalanche held off the comeback.

The key to the game was the stellar play of Paul Stastny who picked up his first career hat trick in the first game of the season, providing more than enough evidence that hockey poolsters will leave his name off their rosters at their peril.

The third period featured many of the ingredients that have made the Stars and Avalanche matches of the past highly entertaining, a fast pace, some hard hits and a flurry of action at both ends.

While slow to heat up, by the time the third period came around game one was quickly taking on some of the characteristics of a game seven final for the Cup.

The marquee match of the night however was at the Air Canada Centre, where the Maple Leafs and Senators renewed hostilities, picking up where many a battle has left off after the completion of play.

The two provincial rivals who have built up a heated and entertaining rivalry over the years, did not disappoint. While the first period featured some sloppy play and apparent ice problems, it was more than made up by the intensity and speed of the play.

They battled in the corners and at the blue lines, with the Senators big line of Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson finding some space to move the puck into the Toronto end of the rink. Heatley who had just signed a six year, 45 million dollar contract began to earn a few of those pennies early on.

He factored into the play at key times, scoring twice once in the third period and again in the overtime to help the Sens once again edge the Leafs, this time 4-3.

Toronto started Andrew Raycroft in the nets, with mixed results. He let in a couple of soft goals that quickly turned the crowd against him, but then at times made some game saving stops that tended to stymie the Senators attack. Ottawa started Martin Gerber in the nets, allowing Ray Emery to rest his recovering hand.

The two teams will face off again Thursday night, as the Sens open up their home schedule at Scotiabank Place. With the promise of more high tempo play and some of the trademark physical play that has marked this rivalry over the last few years.

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