An exciting game at Tampa Bay Times Forum tonight, as an ominous start by the Leafs, except for Jonathan Bernier, gave way to a better final 50 minutes and ultimately a good road win overall. For the 11th time this season and second time in three games, the Leafs outshot their opponent (36-34).
The Leafs brought the Lightning two points closer in the Atlantic Division thanks to this four-point swing, now sitting one point back of second in the Division. The Lightning still have two games in hand.
- There was a frenzied pace to the first period, which started nearly as bad as the Panthers game for the Leafs. Easy zone entries for Tampa were followed by sustained pressure as the Leafs were completely hemmed in under the Tampa forecheck. Jonathan Bernier was there with the bailing bucket, time and again. Only way you survive these kind of starts is great goaltending, and the Leafs sure have it.
- Among the three or four great scoring chances for the Lightning in the early going, the best one was an instance of the Leafs getting burned while attempting to execute the overload system in the defensive zone. Playing the bee-swarm system around the puck carries the inherent risk of open space if the puck gets to the other side. In this case the Leafs were caught on a wide open chance in the slot for Kucherov, who had a ton of space to walk in and rip one on net. I think Bernier somehow got a piece of this.
- The Leafs’ first shift spent with any sustained possession in the ozone came from the first line 13 minutes in.
- Bodie’s ability to draw a penalty was big for salvaging a first period that looked to be heading toward a Lightning lead. After Ranger broke up a play inside the blueline, Bodie showed great hustle in a race to the puck at the offensive zone blueline before placing a hard shot on goal. He didn’t admire his shot, hustling down the loose puck behind the net and putting another hard shot on goal that gave Bishop trouble. Somewhere in the sequence the Leafs earned a holding call.
- No goal came of it, but some strong pressure by the Leafs’ PP included about a minute and a half of sustained possession and puck movement, a goal mouth scramble, and 4 shots overall. This seemed to help the Leafs gain a foothold in the game.
- This was one of Clarkson’s better periods since arriving in Toronto. While the Leafs started that game in shambles, Clarkson was one of few who stood out in a positive light. He willed the puck up the ice a couple of times when the Leafs just couldn’t seem to get themselves moving north south and out of their end. He also hustled down a breakaway chance toward the end of the period but couldn’t get it by Bishop.
- Bernier needed to stand tall again early in the second after Kessel turned it over at the offensive zone blueline, leading to a rush down the wing. Bernier made a save there that looked easier than it was.. A good glove save on a shot from in tight that was headed for the far side.
- A good rush from Rielly a little while later, as he intercepted a sloppy stretch pass from a Lightning D. He rushed up ice and created a goal mouth scramble, nearly picking up a loose puck to jam in but Bishop was looking just as sharp as Bernier in the first two periods.
- There were so many grade A scoring chances given up in this game at both ends of the rink. Bernier and Bishop were going head to head in a competition of “anything you can do, I can do better.” End to end stuff with some dubious displays of defensive hockey.
- A breakthrough finally came. Kulemin, doing an admirable job filling in as a centerman, found Raymond in stride through the neutral zone as he burned the Lightning D wide and roofed a backhand finish. I think that puck would’ve ended up in the crowd if there wasn’t a net there.
- That’s Raymond’s 15th goal of the season, so he could reasonably hit 20 this year with 5 in his final 22. I couldn’t get behind him as a consistent top six installment, but he seems to fit best as a guy who can bring speed and secondary offense to a checking/energy line alongside two capable grinders. Can’t argue with the production or understate its impact, even if he is a frustrating player to watch some nights.
- The Leafs were leading the shot count for most of the period, and were having success gaining speed through neutral zone, taking advantage of some Tampa Bay turnovers and getting a transition game going.
- Phil Kessel ripped one from the slot I was sure would be his 31st of the season, but Bishop somehow held onto it with no rebound. He then sent a gorgeous stretch pass to Bozak for a breakaway, but Bishop gave Bozak nothing there. They wouldn’t have to deal with the big guy much longer…
- A fortunate break for the Leafs as an upper body injury troubling Bishop took him out of the action while Cedrick Desjardins took over the Lightning crease.
- Clarkson, who showed ample jump tonight, put to use some good speed through the neutral zone to gain the zone. What looked like a broken play saw the puck fall to McClement wide open in front, and McClement pulled off an unexpected forehand-to-one-arm-backhand move in tight to give the Leafs an invaluable two-goal cushion. McClement’s second goal (and point) in the last 22 games.
Two points in two games since returning for Clarkson. Small signs of promise here that the stretch drive may be a different story for him.
- Watching the Dads celebrate their kids’ goals is awesome.
- The deceptively quick Bodie took a pass from Raymond and surged through the middle for a breakaway on the counter attack after a big pad save by Bernier. This newfangled Bodie, Raymond and Kulemin (as a center) line looked pretty good tonight. Kulemin is the Leafs’ most defensively-aware/responsible winger and so the experiment seemed to work out. Points for creativity to Carlyle, but maybe we should’ve tried this when our entire center group was injured and suspended (kidding).
- On the topic of some of the lineup decisions tonight… Maybe someone can point to an instance of 7 D working effectively, but I’m not exactly sure Ranger could provide in that role given his circumstances (having not played). Maybe it was a testament to how bad the 4th line options were, or Carlyle felt the need to get him into a game (also against Tampa, his former team). He just seemed to be popping into random pairings and messing things up far as I could tell. And I’m not specifically attacking Ranger here… it’s difficult to pop back into a game after missing a big run of them in a row and be up to speed, let alone when he’s rotated around onto various pairings.
- Update: Noticed in the post game Ranger said getting into this game “meant a lot” to him personally, from an emotional standpoint.
- The top line added to the lead six minutes after the McClement goal. After a clean breakout with Bozak gaining the zone entry, JvR forced a turnover down low, and Kessel sent a great pass to the point for Gunnarsson from behind the net. A rebound off of Gunnarsson’s point shot was batted in by JvR for his 23rd of the season. This guy is blessed when it comes to stick-eye coordination.
- Carl Gunnarsson has seven assists in his past 14 games and five shots in his last four games after registering one assist in the first 27 games of the season. Definitely noticing more offensive involvement lately. Besides the assist off his point shot, he ended up behind the goal line on one play and also went on a solo rush with a couple of nice moves.
- The Leafs seemed to be comfortable in the third, and stayed comfortable even after conceding the 3-1 goal. Speedster Ondrej Palat split Phaneuf and Gunnarsson and ruined Bernier’s shutout (one of Phaneuf or Gunnarsson should’ve just taken whatever piece they could of Palat there and accepted the penalty).
Point is, it was a far cry from the way the Leafs were closing out games a few weeks ago. This one never felt in doubt at 3-1 as the Leafs continued to take it to the Lightning for some more scoring opportunities, including a second Clarkson breakaway and a Kessel/JVR goalmouth scramble. This also helped keep the shot count slightly in the Leafs’ favour which is a make-it-or-break-it deal, y’know.
- An exciting game seemed done and dusted after a Tyler Bozak empty netter, before Bernier got ran into and Gleason completely snapped. It doesn’t matter whether TJ Brown was simply driving the net with his head down, or if Rielly helped him in, the point is that the opposition needs to fear and second guess driving the Leaf net. Gleason’s response there was awesome, his fists flying and his face looking absolutely furious. The way Gleason competes is just plain “angry.” This game was bookended by some nasty physicality from #8; the first shift of the game featured him hammering a pair of Lightning players to the ice when battling along the boards. It’s no-nonsense when this guy enters a puck battle.
To have this element in a player who can also be a positive contributor between the whistles is an endearing quality. Here’s a great quote from an interview with Gleason’s dad, Kevin, the other day:
“That’s how he’s always played since he was 10 years old. I don’t know why, he should’ve been a goalie for god’s sakes. I don’t know why he does it, half of it. He enjoys getting into it, he loves the last minute of the game when he’s leading 1-0, and that’s how he plays.”
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning Boxscore
|Ben Bishop (27-8-4)||22||21||0.955||40:00:00|
|Cedrick Desjardins (0-1-0)||L||13||11||0.846||18:02|
|Martin St. Louis||0||1||20:18||-1||0||0||2||5||0||0||0||1|
|Jonathan Bernier (21-16-5)||W||34||33||0.971||60:00:00|
|James van Riemsdyk||1||0||20:12||1||1||0||0||1||0||0||0||1|