With Braden Holtby holding the Leafs to a single goal on Saturday night, the Leafs offence was looking to get back on track Monday night in Carolina against the Hurricanes. Knowing the Hurricanes feature a few former Leafs players and also their former coach, this is the kind of matchup Leafs fans look at as an indication of whether they’re better off now than they were when the castoffs were still Toronto property.
The intensity ramped up early after Tuomo Ruutu took a run at Phaneuf behind the Leaf goal, prompting Dion to find Ruutu coming up the middle for a good open ice check.
As has been the case for the last nine games, the Leafs surrendered the opening tally as Joe Corvo bounced one past Giguere on a Carolina powerplay. Immediately after the goal, Clarke MacArthur and Chad LaRose squared off at centre ice with a few good punches landed by MacArthur before LaRose came back with one good shot at the end. A few minutes later, just after a Tim Gleason roughing penalty expired, Kaberle drifted into the high slot and threw a somewhat soft backhand towards the net and was rewarded with his second goal of the season.
As the first period expired, Grabovski delivered a check near the Carolina bench starting a scrum which ended up seeing Tim Gleason drop the gloves on Kulemin, who took a hard right punch in the nose and did not return. For his trouble, Gleason received a five minute major and a game misconduct which was partially offset by a handful of minors produced from the jostling. Kulemin did not return and the Leafs offence seemed off balance for the rest of the night. With the Leafs already struggling to produce offence on many nights this season, losing Kulemin would be a devastating blow to the forward ranks.
The second period saw the Leafs’ powerplay take the ice two times, including 1:35 of a two-man advantage, but the only goal of the period came off a Jamie McBain shot that sailed over Giguere’s shoulder with Komisarek in front providing the screen and a probable deflection. The powerplay units moved the puck fairly well but failed to generate many notable chances. A lengthy eight minute review of a Jeff Skinner wraparound attempt really slowed the second period and put a damper on the intensity built in the first period.
After Brandon Sutter scored just under two minutes into the third period to put Carolina up 3-1, Wilson began to play the fourth line a bit more. Tim Brent thanked Wilson by cutting down the left wing and picking the top corner with a backhand over Cam Ward’s shoulder to cut the lead to 3-2. Less than a minute later, Joey Crabb took a minor for hooking. With Crabb in the box, Brent ventured out on the penalty kill and found himself with room to move in shorthanded. A great fake allowed Brent to freeze Ward and deposit a shorthanded goal to tie the game.
The game remained tied at 3-3 for a few minutes before Brandon Sutter came in on the off-wing and beat Giguere glove side. Giguere might want that one back; with the defender taking away the pass, he was perhaps a little deeper in his net than he would’ve liked. After a somewhat odorous goaltender interference call on Fredrik Sjostrom, a lucky bounce landed the puck on the tape of Jeff Skinner who (after being denied an apparent goal earlier in the game) fired it home to restore Carolina’s two goal lead.
With former Leaf Jay Harrison in the penalty box for slashing, Wilson sent his fourth line out for a little powerplay time. Tim Brent rewarded his coach by making a great backhand pass to Mike Brown in front to bring the Leafs back to within one. With the goalie out, Clarke MacArthur tried an ill-advised back pass that was picked off by Erik Cole for the empty net tally to seal the deal for the Hurricanes, 6-4. The Leafs took ten minor penalties in this game, making it extremely difficult for the team to get into any kind of rhythm and limiting the time available to create offence.
With no time to rest as the Leafs head to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning tomorrow evening, James Reimer is expected to get the start as the team experiments with carrying three goaltenders. Another area of concern is with Nik Kulemin and whether or not he will be okay to play after sustaining a facial injury on the Gleason punch. The Hurricanes now find themselves within striking distance of the Atlanta Thrashers and a playoff spot while the Leafs have one chance to end their newest losing streak before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.