Coming off a shootout win over the Florida Panthers, the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted another Southeast division opponent in the Carolina Hurricanes. The last time these two teams met, Tim Gleason delivered a hard right hand to the nose of Nikolai Kulemin, and the Leafs fell 6-4. To add to the frustration for Leafs fans, Eric Staal passed on Phil Kessel at the All-Star draft and took the opportunity to take a light-hearted jab at Toronto, inspiring a few fans to boo him throughout the game.
The Leafs got off to a good start for the second straight game, and although the first period ended without any goals on the board, offensive chances were generated to go along with the physical play that allowed the Leafs to take control of the game. Big hits delivered by Colby Armstrong and Francois Beauchemin set the tone, and Armstrong drew a retaliatory penalty which led to a good powerplay featuring a lot of good movement from the Leafs. At the 12:48 mark of the first period, Jay Rosehill and Tim Gleason squared off immediately after a faceoff in the Carolina zone to resolve the bad blood remaining from last Tuesday’s incident with Rosehill landing a few good lefts “without a reply”, as Joe Bowen called it. With that score settled, the Leafs’ focus seemed to shift to winning the game and they closed the period outshooting the ‘Canes 13-6.
Clarke MacArthur finally opened the scoring seven minutes into the second period with a shot high in the zone after Kaberle made a great play to draw the defender low into the zone while getting the puck back to a wide open MacArthur. A few minutes later, with Mike Komisarek in the box for roughing, James Reimer’s stick got tangled up with a Carolina forward circling behind the net and the Hurricanes were presented with a glorious two-man advantage for 1:36.
Tim Brent was the lone forward out for the penalty kill and blocked multiple Eric Staal shots in succession earning himself a loud ovation from fans at the ACC which lasted into the subsequent TV timeout. It was an event not witnessed often in Toronto over the past few seasons, and the fans responded by voicing their appreciation of a fantastic effort from a blue-collar player. With the Leafs retaining control of the game thanks to the strong penalty-killing, Darryl Boyce stripped a Carolina defender along the right wing boards and cut in to beat Cam Ward, extending the Leafs’ lead to 2-0 to finish the second period.
The Leafs played a disciplined third period, taking no penalties and never giving Carolina a chance to get back into the game. Kris Versteeg capped off the scoring after Cam Ward made a highlight reel save on Tim Brent, who probably deserved a goal after all his great defensive efforts throughout the night. If it’s any consolation, Pierre McGuire anointed him as the night’s Monster. Meanwhile, in the Leafs end, James Reimer was not tested a whole lot early on, but provided the exact kind of goaltending the Leafs needed in a game like this: calm in the crease, good rebound control, perfect on the night for his first career shutout. It’s hard not to get ahead of oneself with Reimer, perhaps the Leafs’ most exciting homegrown goaltender since Felix Potvin.
Phil Kessel was dangerous all night, firing five shots on Cam Ward and creating chances throughout the game. He looks ready to break out and get back to scoring goals, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the team as next up for the Leafs are the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday night. Hopefully the team can continue to build confidence and put together a winning streak coming out of the All-Star break