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DALLAS — Rick Bowness brought out some old Toronto bling for some reverse luck against the high-scoring Maple Leafs.
The interim coach of the Dallas Stars showed off the 1938 gold NHL all-star ring that belonged to Gordie Drillon, the Leafs’ last scoring champion in 1937-38, a gift to Bowness’s father Bob from when the latter and Drillon were pro hockey pals in Saint John, New Brunswick.
“I don’t wear it very often,” the Moncton-born Bowness said of having it on tonight at American Airlines Center. “We always spent a lot of time with Gordie when I was a kid.”
Drillon’s feat is so far back that the Art Ross Trophy had not yet been cast to give the league’s top scorer. He had 26 goals and 52 points that year and was a two-time all-star right winger.
The chances of a Leaf winning a Ross are greatly increased with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner around. Toronto has also put together an impressive streak of seven consecutive road games with at least four goals, its longest since 1983. But they’ll run right into the buzzsaw of the league’s best team in terms of goals against, Dallas a league low 122.
“Man, I love (the Leafs’) creativity,” Bowness said. “They’re great on the rush and you can see they’re making an effort to play a more structured game defensively.”
Bowness sees his team applying the same game plan as it did Monday in edging the streaking Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2, which is to think shutdown and get offence from defence.
“We have great goaltending (Ben Bishop plays Wednesday) and when we’re on our game, we don’t give up a lot of chances,” Bowness added. “Whatever you get from us, you’ll have to earn.”
The Stars like to use their speed as a weapon on defence, but employ at least one old-school blueliner in former Leaf Roman Polak.
“Roman competes as hard as anyone in the league,” said Bowness. “You’re going to get banged and hacked and whacked. You’re going to pay a price against him. He’s experienced enough to know when to give a little room and when to take it away.”
This will be an emotional evening for Leafs forward Jason Spezza, his first game back here since signing with his hometown team. Spezza spent five seasons in Dallas where he and his wife were raising four daughters. He dined with close teammate Jamie Benn Tuesday evening and the club had a video tribute planned in the first period.
“Winning playoff rounds bonds you and we had a year (2015-16) where we led the Western Conference in wins and were scoring lots of goals,” Spezza said. “That was a fun year. Seeing Benny win the scoring race was pretty cool, the year we were out of the playoffs at the end (but) it gave us something to motivate us.”
Spezza looked forward to the video.
“It never hurts seeing yourself score goals when you’re playing a game,” he quipped.
Rookie defenceman Rasmus Sandin comes back to the AAC a year and a half after being called to the podium as the Leafs’ late first-round draft pick. On Monday in Nashville he scored his first NHL goal. He recalled taking the pedestrian entrance to the AAC with his family, not the VIP gate.
“That was an unreal experience, the first step to the NHL,” Sandin remembered of the draft. “I couldn’t be happier Toronto took me. I wanted to get to the NHL as soon as possible and now, try and get better.”
Coach Sheldon Keefe forecasted no lineup changes for the game after Kasperi Kapanen returned to practice from hurting his elbow in Monday’s win in Nashville. Bowness had to scratch forward Roope Hintz after an injury against the Bolts, replacing him with Justin Dowling, while forward Andrew Cogliano is a game-time decision.
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