It’s a pretty inexact science to look back at a game and make observations based on the what-ifs, but this was a 3-2 game in the Leafs’ favour from the second period on and you can’t count the number of great chances the Leafs had in the third period on one hand. To name three of the best:
Mikhail Grabovski didn’t convert on his penalty shot.
Brett Lebda had an empty net opportunity blocked by a sprawling Hawks defenceman.
Mike Brown was stopped on a breakaway after picking up a turnover at the blueline.
The Blackhawks are currently in top form, enjoying their best streak of play of their 2010-11 regular season, and caught a tentative-looking Leafs team off guard early with their pace, forcing some costly turnovers and missed assignments. Just how much establishing a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes changes their approach to the rest of the game is a tough question to answer. But the Hawks were coming off a win over Carolina the night before and could have been there for the beating if the Leafs kept this more manageable in the first. Ultimately you can’t get yourself into a 0-3 hole in the National Hockey League and expect a good result, but the Leafs have to be feeling they could have done something special tonight if the luck went their way and the finishing was more clinical. Corey Crawford really didn’t help matters.
The way the Leafs played the final two periods, moreso the third, will definitely be something to take with them to the Island on Tuesday. This could’ve gotten really ugly at 5-1, but you have to like the way the Buds made a game of it and almost extended the one-goal game streak to ten. Carl Gunnarsson will have to rebound after a couple of costly giveaways as he’s become key to the Leafs’ success since the Kaberle deal, clocking around 24 minutes again tonight.
Nobody said the Leafs had to pick up points in every game from here on in. As Ron Wilson put it, winning two of three and avoiding slumps will give the Leafs a fighting chance when it comes down to the wire. Coming off a nine game point streak, a loss to the Stanley Cup champs who have been hotter than a pepper sprout is excusable. The same can’t be said about lost points to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.