Almost as impressive as the third period display by the Maple Leafs last night was their ability to storm out of the gate again this afternoon in their second game in less than 24 hours. After a vibrant first frame in which the Leafs should have scored more, the Leafs sat 1-0 up entering the second period of play.
A marginal call against Alex Steen left the Leafs short-handed and Joe Corvo scored early on in the second frame. Not to be discouraged, the Leafs regained control of the game thanks to tremendous work from the dynamic trio of Nik Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Niklas Hagman.
But a barrage of questionable calls – first, the supposed closing-the-hand-on-the-puck call against Carlo Colaiacovo and then the phantom trip by Pavel Kubina – sparked a late period Hurricanes blitzkrieg and the Leafs found themselves swallowing a dose of their own medicine after allowing three goals against in the span of three minutes. The Maple Leafs were definitely guilty of some complacency after gaining the 3-1 advantage and of scraggly penalty-killing, but were also the victims of some suspect calls on the part of Kerry Fraser as well as hit-and-miss goaltending from Curtis Joseph.
The Leafs rebounded midway through the third and one wondered if the comeback kids were at it again. It wasn’t to be this time, despite a flurry of scoring chances they generated in the final minutes. A penalty – this one unquestionable – against Nik Antropov would seal the Leafs’ fate.
Again, however, the Leafs’ effort couldn’t be doubted and the team can feel slightly hard-done-by looking back at this result. It drove home the lesson that, as surmountable as leads have seemed recently, you can’t be routinely falling into two-goal holes and reasonably expect a positive result each time.
*It wasn’t the happiest of birthdays for Luke Schenn, who was on the ice for four Canes goals and finished the night a -2. However, he did seem more involved offensively, with a few near chances as well as a few fantastic stretch passes. He wasn’t his usual defensive self, which can be expected of a 19-year-old in his second game in as many days. At times Schenn seems so infallible to the point where you are prone to placing him on a pedestal, but it can’t be forgotten that off-nights for a developing defenseman are natural and to be expected.
*Mikhail Grabovski was incandescent and really appears to be hitting his stride offensively. His first goal was an exhilarating taste of his natural offensive talent. Player-of-the-game honours are a toss up between him and his line-mate Nik Hagman, who similarly scored a jaw-dropper in the third. Hagman’s offensive bent has looked very promising thus far and it was nice to see a finishing product. Nik Kulemin was quietly solid and recorded two assists on the night.
*Carlo Colaiacovo showed signs of rust. Ron Wilson was harsh to call him out on his marginal yet costly penalty, but Wilson’s not one to call out the refs. I’d like to see Wilson give him a chance to hit his stride. I’m not yet ready to give up on Carlo, especially when the return in any trade would be minimal. At times last year he was the Leafs best defender.
*Ian White offers a lot more on that fourth line than Ryan Hollweg. I understand that Hollweg’s willing to take a nightly beating, but White’s a bulldog as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d drop ‘em if Wilson asked him to.
*Alex Steen was a strong defensive presence at center-ice. We might have to be resigned to the fact that Steen’s only ever going to be a responsible center with some offensive upside.
*We’ve seen a bit of an odd transformation in the last few games. This team seemed destined to be a defense-first outfit that tries to eek out one-goal wins, but lately it’s been anything but.
*With Toskala in net, the Leafs likely capture both points tonight.
The Leafs get a chance at payback Tuesday night in the second half of the home-and-home.