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Nolan Makes Early Mark

Saturday, 03.8.2003 / 10:27 PM ET / News
Toronto Maple Leafs
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Nolan Makes Early Mark
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TORONTO (CP) - The term 'power forward' had been bandied about with religious zeal by Toronto fans this week ever since Owen Nolan was acquired from the San Jose Sharks.

Todd Bertuzzi reminded a national audience Saturday night, not too mention a bus load of friends and family at the Air Canada Centre, that he may very well be the No. 1 power forward in the NHL today.

Bertuzzi scored his 37th and 38th goals of the season and added an assist to help the road-weary Vancouver Canucks rally from a two-goal deficit to tie Toronto 3-3 in Nolan's much-anticipated Maple Leaf debut.

Two goals was quite a start for Nolan.
Graig Abel Photography
Nolan didn't disappoint, scoring a pair of goals, but there was a feeling Bertuzzi had a message to deliver.

"That was an all-star performance from Todd,'' said Canucks coach Marc Crawford.

"We really needed someone to pull us up and he was outstanding. He had one of his better games of the season.''

Toronto's much-maligned defence had a nightmare trying to handle the 6-3, 245-pound Bertuzzi, a menace around the net and along the boards.

"When he's playing his power game he's so tough to stop,'' said Canucks captain Markus Naslund, Bertuzzi's linemate on the NHL's best line. "He's a force out there. He was the reason why we got a point tonight. It was a great time for him to step up.''

Bertuzzi, a former OHL junior star in Guelph, didn't bite when asked what it meant facing the fellow power forward in Nolan's Toronto debut.

"Really nothing,'' said Bertuzzi, who like Nolan can be a little surly with the media at times. "Obviously the atmosphere around here was extremely high for him and he came out and played well. He'd been playing well of late. It's good to see.''

Nolan downplayed his impressive debut.

"It's nice to get two goals but I really didn't think I played that well,'' said Nolan, who returned from a back injury. "I felt real sluggish throughout the game. It's only the second time I've skated in a week.''

Chants of "Owen, Owen'' cascaded down from the stands of a rocking Air Canada Centre after Nolan scored 2:26 into the third period to give Toronto a 3-1 lead.

But Bertuzzi scored his second goal of the game 3½ minutes later and then assisted on Henrik Sedin's equalizer midway through the third as Vancouver showed the kind of resilience that has become second nature this season.

"It was a pretty gutsy effort by our team,'' said a pleased Crawford. "I'm really proud of this group.''

Nolan's movie-like debut aside, the Leafs may have been a little fortunate on this night, getting outshot 33-19 and outplayed for most of the night but taking advantage of a shaky Peter Skudra. The Vancouver backup had his third consecutive porous start and the return of No. 1 Dan Cloutier (sprained knee) sometime in the next two weeks can't come fast enough.

"It's tough. You want to be playing your best hockey when you have a chance to play,'' said Skudra.

The Canucks (39-18-11-1) ended a five-game Eastern swing at 1-1-2-1 and return home to host the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.

Shayne Corson also scored for the Leafs (37-26-5-1), who are winless in four games (0-3-1) and head out West for a three-game trek that starts Monday in Edmonton.

"Right now we're not clicking on all cylinders,'' said Toronto goalie Ed Belfour. "Down the stretch we have to work on being more consistent.''

Nolan powered into the Vancouver zone on a two-on-one break early in the third period, one-timing a cross-crease pass from linemate Mikael Renberg past Skudra to give Toronto a lead that looked safe at the time.

But Bertuzzi cut Toronto's lead to 3-2 at 6:04 of the third period, backhanding a rebound over Belfour during a Vancouver power play.

An onrushing Sedin took an all-star pass across the slot from defenceman Ed Jovanovski and one-timed a shot between Belfour's legs to tie the game 3-3 at 10:43 of the third period, silencing the crowd after Nolan's pair of goals.

Nolan's first goal in a Leafs uniform wasn't exactly a thing of beauty, Robert Reichel's point shot on a power play deflecting off Nolan and in to give Toronto a 2-1 lead late in the first period. Still, it was enough to rock the 19,366 on hand at Air Canada Centre.

"I was just trying to get in the way of the goalie and it hit my glove and went in,'' Nolan said. "I'll take them any way I can get them.''

Corson's re-direct goal from in front of the net to open the scoring 5:31 into the game was quickly answered 29 seconds later by the Canucks' top line as a tic-tac-toe play ended with Brendan Morrison feeding Bertuzzi who deked out Belfour for a real beauty.

Vancouver outshot Toronto 9-1 in a second period.

Notes: Toronto plays at Vancouver next Saturday night, capping a three-game Western Canadian trip that begins Monday in Edmonton ... Vancouver was once again without Cloutier and star defenceman Mattias Ohlund (knee surgery) ... Winger Tom Fitzgerald (ankle) and defenceman Jyrki Lumme (leg strain) were out for Toronto, as well as suspended pugilists Tie Domi and Darcy Tucker.

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