Introductory note: Please welcome Conor O’Callaghan to MLHS.
It isn’t easy to come right back from a 7-0 loss, but that was the situation facing the Leafs tonight as they hosted the Ducks just 24 hours after the New York Rangers dominated them from puck drop to the final horn. With Dan Sexton putting Anaheim up roughly eight minutes into the opening frame with a shot from a bad angle, the Leafs desperately needed something to turn the tide. That something was provided in the form of a massive body check delivered by Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf to an unsuspecting Matt Beleskey at the Ducks’ blueline.
This is the kind of hit that can change the momentum of a game, and the kind Leafs fans were dreaming of when news of the blockbuster trade with Calgary broke almost one year ago. Given the position the Leafs occupy in the Eastern Conference standings and the fact that if any kind of playoff push – or more importantly, the lottery position they’d rather not surrender to the Bruins – the significance of that hit may be much larger than the stars Beleskey had to contend with in the aftermath.
Shortly after, Clarke MacArthur was rewarded for going to net with his 15th goal of the season, bringing him to within two of his career-high 17.
Even after the Ducks took a 2-1 lead on a bit of a soft goal, the Leafs’ resurging confidence began to swing momentum back in their favour. Despite holding the 3rd ranked powerplay in the NHL, the Ducks couldn’t muster any offence as Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong in particular kept them on their heels for the majority of their powerplay time.
Carl Gunnarsson provided the tying goal at the 13:10 mark of the second period, and Tyler Bozak gave the Leafs the only lead they would require three minutes later. Two tallies by Mikhail Grabovski (to reach 20 on the season and claim the team goal scoring lead) in the third period sealed the deal for the Leafs and solidified the win for Giguere against his old team.
Tonight’s win was potentially monumental for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the immediate erasure of any painful memories from the debacle in New York last night. When Phaneuf stepped up and threw his biggest hit as a Leaf to date in the first period, the confidence returned to a team bereft of any after losing by touchdown to the Rangers. Tyler Bozak in particular seemed to show renewed zeal, nailing a Ducks defender behind the Anaheim goal line, following that up with excellent penalty killing and the game winning goal.
Ironic that against Burke’s old team, his new team showed the truculence fans were led to expect with the defence playing a rugged game all around, led by Phaneuf and Schenn with 28:55 and 26:53 in ice time respectively.
With the window for the Leafs’ playoff chances closing as the season presses on, tonight’s game is perhaps the most encouraging effort fans could have hoped for after consecutive losses to Phoenix, Calgary and the Rangers in the last week. As it has been said before, the key is consistency. With a young team and no easy games ahead, the Leafs will need a whole lot more of what they brought tonight if they hope to make a successful push up the standings.