It’s been about the hockey future for so long in these parts that one surely wondered if we would be able to recognize the hockey present when it arrived.

Apparently however it has.

The long nightmare of Maple Leaf Nation that began a decade ago and included season after painful season of waffling ownership questionable management inconsistent coaching and lots and lots of bad players may finally be over.

You can say that not just because the Leafs won their first two games of the 2013-14 season on the road and then followed up on Saturday night in their 96th home opener with a thrill-a-minute come-from-behind 5-4 shootout triumph over the Ottawa Senators that showed how entertaining the sport can be some nights.

It’s not about just three games and it’s not just about a new goaltending hero in town in 25-year-old Jonathan Bernier who surely made a lot of believers in a fabulous relief performance against the Senators.

No you can say the nightmare appears to finally be over because for the first time in a decade the Leafs appear to have their house in order.

They not only are saying they want to win. They seem to know how to go about it and are trying to do it properly and patiently.

There’s a recognizable scent of yes competence in the air.

Finally after all kinds of turmoil and errors this is an organization that is emphasizing the right things and making good solid hockey decisions. It’s a young team that sometimes (like for much of Saturday night) looks not-quite-ready-for-prime-time but is growing together and making its better players like Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak want to stay and be part of it.

The serious rebuilding of this franchise started five years ago when Brian Burke — who was in the building Saturday night — brought a new level of focus and ambition to town which should be a reference point for other franchises and the Leafs.

It takes that long and lots and lots of losing to fix a mess if you make one.

As of today the Leafs aren’t world beaters or Stanley Cup contenders but they’re no longer laughingstocks and they’re absolutely nobody’s punching bag.

Three games into an 82-game schedule GM Dave Nonis who succeeded Burke last January is looking as though he had as good an off-season as any hockey GM. David Bolland picked up from the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks scored two goals Wednesday in the road victory in Philadelphia and Mason Raymond signed to a tryout six weeks ago was outstanding on Saturday night with a goal two assists and a spectacular spin-a-rama score for the shootout winner.

Bernier picked up from L.A. in a big summer trade delighted the more prehistoric Leaf fans in the pre-season by getting into one of those goofy goalie fights and on Saturday night made ACC patrons happy a more conventional way.

He took over for a struggling James Reimer partway through with the Leafs trailing 4-2 stopped 15 shots without error and ultimately helped push the game to a shootout.