Toronto welcomed the HBO crew with a 3-2 overtime victory at the Air Canada Centre.  They came out with the appropriate amount of desperation and effort for a team that has been stumbling significantly.

1. The Leafs certainly came to play tonight. Maybe it was the HBO presence or an unheralded urgency in response to the squad’s recent stretch of dismal outings. It could also just be the natural progression for a good – but not elite – NHL team in an 82 game season. In that case, tonight’s victory would signify a swing in the right direction for the Leafs. But it would not preclude some mediocre stretches later on in the season – especially if injury woes continue. That’s just the reality for most teams in the NHL. The path may not be pretty, but all that will matter is the destination.

2. One competitive player that clearly wanted to set the tone for the game early? Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf wasted no time in stepping up to lay a solid hit on Jamie Benn. He followed this up by trailing the rush and getting the Leafs coveted first shot on goal and a decent scoring chance to boot. Then, he was ready to throw down with the Dallas captain before the referees intervened. The concept of “leadership” is sometimes vague and often dramatized in team sports – but this was as close to a definitive embodiment of that idea as you will get.

3. The referees quickly sought out another chance to intervene, gracing Cody Franson with a mysterious penalty just minutes after the Benn-Phaneuf altercation. In recent games, the penalty kill has floundered and this was a prime opportunity for the Stars to snatch back momentum. Thankfully, Jay McClement and Jonathan Bernier the Leafs penalty killers held strong. After another important kill in the third, the crew succumbed to a deflected shot on the Stars’ third powerplay of the night.

4. Cody Franson has been involved offensively, but is still pressing for his first goal. Franson’s shot is accurate with a quick and deceptive release. He’s used it slightly less this year and tonight’s game was a welcome effort in the opposite direction. After ringing his patented wrister off the post in the first, he ripped a slapper following a penalty kill midway through the second. Finally, he sent a targeted wrister for the go-ahead tip goal by Kadri. Franson is one of the league’s best offensive defensemen with a physical dimension. His game has been a bit off (likely confounded by a rotating arsenal of partners), but he will continue to step up his game as the halfway mark of this season approaches.

5. Surprise surprise, the JVR-Kadri-Kessel line was dynamic. Carlyle threw his (remaining) most talented players on to one line because – let’s face it – he didn’t really have a choice. They looked dangerous immediately. Kadri tallied two goals tonight and meshes well with JVR’s work in front of the net and Kessel’s general razzle dazzle. Granted, the first goal was an awkward play with Daley hurt in the corner, but Nazem looks poised to take advantage of yet another look with JVR and Kessel.

6. Early in the third, a disastrous change gave the Stars an odd-man rush which they capitalized on. The victimized blueliners in this case were Fraser and Ranger and this was simply a careless mistake in a crucial portion of the game.

7. Jonathan Bernier bounced back in net with that elite caliber of goaltending that Toronto has been spoiled with thus far this campaign. If you missed this one, watch the tape. Look for: diving larceny on Ray Whitney near the end of the second, a glove save on Peverley to preserve the lead and rejecting Jamie Benn roughly twenty times on the night.

8. Rielly sat out tonight. Coming off the victory, Carlyle may elect to stick with this group of defenders heading into the weekend matches. Knowing him, he may also switch it up due to matchup dynamics or just to keep his fringe blueliners at their best. Regardless, the blueline will be in a state of flux with Fraser, Ranger and Reilly the most likely candidates for rotating as healthy scratches.

9. Speaking of lineups in flux, the injuries to the top portion of this club has undoubtedly been one of the catalysts for their stretch of poor showings. With no set lines or nightly stability, players not named Van Riemsdyk and Kessel have had noticeable consistency issues. This is as a reminder that at their healthiest, the Leafs are a competitive club with tangible upside.

10. Jake Gardiner and Trevor Smith connected on the winning goal in overtime tonight to avoid a potentially heartbreaking come-from-behind loss to the Stars. True to form, the Leafs allowed a boat load of shots and came out ahead.

Tonight was a step in the right direction for Toronto. Given their current personnel, they had a significant number of scoring chances. The goalies at both ends of the ice were fantastic tonight, with Bernier edging out Lehtonen for the win on the back of a 48 save performance.

0:58:00TORNazem Kadri (8) Wrist shot - ASST: James van Riemsdyk (10), Phil Kessel (11)1 - 0 TOR
1:52:00DALErik Cole (4) Tip-in - ASST: Shawn Horcoff (6), Valeri Nichushkin (8)1 - 1 Tie
6:58:00TOR PPG - Nazem Kadri (9) Tip-in - ASST: Cody Franson (14), Phil Kessel (12)2 - 1 TOR
17:14:00DAL PPG - Shawn Horcoff (3) Tip-in - ASST: Kevin Connauton (1), Sergei Gonchar (5)2 - 2 Tie
4:18:00TORTrevor Smith (4) Wrist shot - ASST: Jake Gardiner (7), Dion Phaneuf (9)3 - 2 TOR
81RPHIL KESSEL2714102451540310713.1
21LJAMES VAN RIEMSDYK25128205244107715.6
12LMASON RAYMOND279918683036613.6
43CNAZEM KADRI2471017-3372013917.9
19LJOFFREY LUPUL228715-6182006811.8
4DCODY FRANSON2601313-410000370
3DDION PHANEUF2728101228000395.1
63CDAVE BOLLAND1564104181122722.2
42CTYLER BOZAK154610622101723.5
44DMORGAN RIELLY21088-86000310
15DPAUL RANGER25167224010283.6
23CTREVOR SMITH16347000011520
51DJAKE GARDINER2606628000330
71RDAVID CLARKSON17235-330100365.6
41LNIKOLAI KULEMIN15235040011216.7
11CJAY MCCLEMENT26022012000190
40RTROY BODIE90220500070
32LJOSH LEIVO711200000425
2DMARK FRASER12011-12700020
36DCARL GUNNARSSON27011414000140
37RCARTER ASHTON15011212000110
24CPETER HOLLAND510114000714.3
46LDAVID BROLL50111500030
22CJERRED SMITHSON12000-3400010
28RCOLTON ORR25000-27300060
38LFRAZER MCLAREN12000-14000030
59LJAMIE DEVANE2000-1000010
45JONATHAN BERNIER181510092.448721575410.929000
34JAMES REIMER12126272.586311392270.931000