In what was nearly an improbable comeback victory for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the high powered Washington Capitals, the Leafs did manage to gain a valuable point while showing a ton of intestinal fortitude.Â Possibly more importantly they got key contributions from three or four forwards that have been missing in action for most of the season thus far.Â Scoring big, timely goals on the night were some prominent members of the 2010/11 â€œwhere have you beenâ€ class as Nik Kulemin, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak all had big tallies on the night.
Playing their first game without captain Dion Phaneuf the Leafs played an excellent third period and battled hard after a relatively weak first two periods in a pretty moribund atmosphere in Washington – seriously, they barely made a peep during a spirited and lengthy bout between Colton Orr and DJ King.Â Something obviously clicked when the Leafs took to the ice in the final period and they managed to get a valuable point in a game they probably should have lost outright after falling behind 3-1 midway through a rough second period.
The much maligned duo of Versteeg and Bozak had especially huge goals in the third period back to back as the Leafs managed to get themselves back into a hockey game that looked pretty hopeless after forty minutes of play.Â Even John Mitchell had a few key shifts and was basically the catalyst on the Tomas Kaberle third period goal that made the game 3-2 early in the period â€“ giving the Leafs a bit of life.
The aforementioned (and snake bitten) Versteeg scored on a breakaway to tie the game and Bozak batted one home on the power play to give the Leafs a 4-3 lead.Â The Capitals tied the game on their own power play after a pretty weak cross-checking call against Brett Lebda as Alex Semin notched his 7th goal of the season and the game headed to overtime.
The Leafs were given a penalty early into the extra period and Tim Brent had a heroic shot block in the overtime period as the Leafs killed off a 4-on-3 power play, I donâ€™t use the term heroic often in sports, but it is appropriate in this situation as Brent literally took a grenade to the shins in the form of an Alex Ovechkin slap shot and prevented it from getting to the net as the game headed to a shootout.
This was the first shootout on the season for the Leafs and an area they need to improve upon for any chance at a playoff berth.Â Nik Backstrom and Phil Kessel were each foiled on their attempts in the first round. Â Alex Ovechkin (28% on his career) put his home while Nik Kulemin was stymied on the second round of shooters and Alex Semin ended the game with a slap shot effort as the Leafs were on the losing end of an exciting 5-4 final.
Jonas Gustavsson had a very nice performance on the night and made a few key saves for the Leafs, he was even named Pierre Maguireâ€™s â€œMonster Performerâ€ of the game, ironically enough.Â If the Leafs can continue to get these kind of much needed performances from the likes of Versteeg, Kulemin, Bozak and Gustavsson it would go a very long way in showing the fans there is still reason to be optimistic about this season, and beyond.
Even on a night the team lost, scoring four goals in a game with none belonging to Phil Kessel has to be viewed as a positive development.Â Hopefully that can continue.