Games on back to back nights in different cities has been surprisingly rewarding for the Toronto Maple Leafs over the last month. Having won two back-to-back sets in February and coming off a 3-2 overtime win over Pittsburgh the night before, the Leafs again showed an impressive energy level in a building they hadn’t won in since 2008. This young team appears to be taking lessons learned from a inconsistent first four months of the season and turning a corner, now sitting at 10-2-4 since the All-Star break. But the one constant that will seemingly always remain is the curse of the ex Leaf.
It can’t be surprising at this stage that none other than Kris Versteeg opened to scoring for the Flyers just over 5 minutes into the contest on a snap shot from the slot. But before the announcer could finish relaying the scoring details of the first goal the game had its second as Clark MacArthur stepped into a bomb after the Flyers turned it over in their own end. The goal was later changed to Nikolai Kulemin who was battling for his space in front of the net and deflected it past Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The Leafs found themselves on the powerplay four times in the opening period but were unable to capitalize despite sustained pressure, as has been the case often since Kaberle was shipped up to Boston. Wilson made a good point in the post-game that at some point you have to tip the cap to a good penalty kill led by Bobrovsky. With similar efforts the future returns should be better.
The second period opened with a tilt between Scott Hartnell and Keith Aulie which started out in Hartnell’s favour and then quickly swung against him as Aulie recovered from a few punches to land two solid shots of his own that landed the Flyers’ forward on his behind. Just after the seven minute mark none other than Kris Versteeg received a rocket pass out of the corner from Flyers captain Mike Richards to put Philly up 2-1 with his second goal of the game.
Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, riding a visible burst of confidence after playing a key role in the overtime winner last night, evened the score at 2-2 with just eleven seconds remaining in the second frame with the teams playing 4 on 4 after the Flyers took a blatant too many men on the ice penalty to negate their own powerplay. The importance of the tying goal cannot be understated. Playing the second game of a back to back situation on the road, the captain stepped up and energized the team heading into the third period.
The third period was tense for Leafs fans as Reimer made a few major saves to keep the game knotted at 2’s, but Mike Komisarek also deserves credit for breaking up a dangerous looking two-on-one break to keep the Leafs within one; atoning for his role in Versteeg’s second goal early in the second. All the defensive work was finally rewarded as Darryl Boyce utilized a good forecheck to get the better of Sean O’Donnell, pulling the puck out of the corner with just under five minutes remaining in regulation and tucking it in past Bobrovsky to give the Leafs all they needed for the win on this night.
Working against the Leafs on this night were the Hurricanes and Sabres, whose game resulted in a Carolina victory in overtime. Despite that uncooperative three-point result, the Senators beat the Thrashers and Wild beat the Rangers in regulation, so the race essentially gets tighter as the march towards the postseason goes on. James Reimer once again provided the kind of goaltending the Leafs have been yearning for since the lockout, and he will have the reins until he lets go of them. A quick look at the league leaders in goaltending stats on NHL.com reveals that Reimer sits second behind only Tim Thomas in save percentage at .929, and he will qualify for official league statistics after Saturday’s game. This is world class goaltending from Reimer and the sample size isn’t exactly small anymore. He’s providing the backing that allows a young group to grow without every mistaking ending up in the back of the net, and there’s no better example than when he bailed out Aulie after he fumbled a clearance late in tonight’s game.
Credit has to be given to the coach Wilson for what proved to be an effective gameplan that capitalized one of few Flyers’ weaknesses, an aging and somewhat immobile defense group, and for the players’ executing and digging deep to find the extra effort needed in its second game in as many nights.Â Every player in the blue and white earned their ice tonight and contributed, something that will need to continue down the stretch if the Leafs are to capitalize on this run and sneak into the playoffs.