Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron scored in the shootout as the Boston Bruins clawed back to take 3 – 2 decision over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Joffrey Lupul and Nikolai Kulemin scored for the Leafs in regulation, who led 2 – 0 in the second period before ultimately receding to the Bruins. James Reimer made 27 saves in a losing effort, while Tuukka Rask made 23.
1. The Leafs are 17 – 12 – 4, and boy the past 120 minutes of hockey are hard to fathom. With the shoot out loss and win on Saturday, the Leafs evened the season series to 1 – 2 – 1 and sure look to be rewriting recent history. The door prize for making it through regulation time gives the Leafs 38 points, good enough to keep them in sixth place in the conference and six points clear of ninth place Carolina.
2. The Leafs didn’t register a shot until six minutes it, en route to a total of six in a disjointed first period that looked like Saturday’s 13-shot effort was the start of a trend. Both teams struggled to sustain much of an attack. Aside from Colton Orr taking a penalty behind the Bruins net with just under three minutes to play, there was little to be displeased with by the Leafs play. While they have historically had the Leafs number, the Bruins haven’t been world beaters of late
3. The best chance of the period for the Leafs came when Nazem Kadri wristed a shot from the half boards that rebounded to Nikolai Kulemin at the side of the Bruins net. It has to be said that the Lupul-Kadri-Kulemin unit is a credit to Randy Carlyle’s coaching.
What is often overlooked when discussing the line is their cerebral play, with both Lupul and Kulemin being able find open spaces to optimize Kadri’s terrific vision. They were a constant threat tonight, allowing the Leafs to stay in a game where Kessel isn’t allowed to score.
4. 28 seconds into the second period, Aaron Johnson clips Nazem Kadri, drawing a penalty. While he appeared to be favouring his leg on the play, Kadri returned for the power play. Shortly thereafter, a loose puck squirted to Jake Gardiner, two steps inside the blue line. Gardiner slipped down into the slot, freezing the Boston PKers, before feeding a wide open Joffrey Lupul, who makes no mistake for a 1 – 0 lead. The goal was not without its controversy, as the puck appeared to exit the Bruins zone by a hair earlier in the power play.
With just over 12 minutes to play in the period, Nazem Kadri recovers a blocked shot in the Leafs zone, and threads yet another INSANE pass to a cheating Kulemin, who does the NHL 13 deke to his forehand on a breakaway to make it 2 – 0 Leafs.
5. The importance of that second goal cannot be overstated, with a slumping Milan Lucic responding less than two minutes later, scoring a breakaway goal of his own. The game then transformed into a track meet, with teams trading chances 2 – 1 and 3 – 2. During that span, Jake Gardiner had me whistling Sweet Georgia Brown, duplicating the pass on Lupul’s goal to Tyler Bozak who unsurprisingly didn’t finish.
Were it not for the staunch goaltending of James Reimer (who faced 12 shots in the period), the Leafs could have very easily been down 3 – 2. With all that said, were it not for Tuukka Rask, it could have very easily been up 4 – 1.
6. Jake Gardiner showed tonight why he belongs in the NHL. After Kadri, Gardiner may have the best vision on the ice, and his mobility and puck sense have been missed. He finished with only one assist on the night, but played 20:00 of ice time, and even led a few offensive rushes.
Despite his highlight reel passes, it was his defensive play that mattered most, with Gardiner taking Brad Marchand out of the play and stopping him from connecting on a Zdeno Chara goal-mouth pass in the last minute of play in the overtime period. His 200-foot game was just incredible tonight.
7. The third period started much like the second, with Patrice Bergeron taking a hooking penalty on Lupul a mere 30 seconds into the frame, though it played out much differently. Resentment began to bubble in Boston, overflowing onto the likes of Mike Kostka and Carl Gunnarsson. Every whistle brought a side show, as the Bruins tried to flex their muscles to gain an advantage.
A lot of credit has to be given to the Leafs for being able to weather the assault, and for not retaliating regularly. The Leafs do not have the size, or the snarl, throughout the entire lineup to match up favourably against the Bruins.
But it also remains a weakness that Dave Nonis should be aware of with the trade deadline just over a week away.
8. With 9:24 left to play in the third period, Patrice Bergeron brings the Bruins back even, completing a feed from (sigh) Dougie Hamilton. Bergeron scored on a fluky backhand goal that Reimer had to want back.
It’s worth noting that the Leafs have scored first in their last 6 games, and have gone 2 – 1 – 3. While they got the point tonight, the Leafs inability to close out teams has been an Achilles heel. Particularly worrisome is that the Leafs carried leads into the third period only to surrender at least two goals in three of those six games.
9. Despite the soft serve goal in the third, James Reimer put in another solid night in net in his fifth consecutive start. Unfortunately, he, for a fourth time this season and third time in his last five starts, allowed two goals in the shootout en route to a disappointing, cough-up-the-lead loss.
While Reimer deserves some measure of blame for his woeful shoot out numbers, someone not named Tyler Bozak needs to learn how to score. He’s scored all three skills competition goals for the club, and this team can ill afford to leave so many points on the table.
10. The Leafs improved upon their performance on Saturday night, actually mustering 22 shots through regulation, but the team truly lacks the killer instinct of a contender, or the skill of a simple EMT to stop the bleeding. This was an entirely winnable game, and while no one expected the Leafs to come into this back-to-back sequence against the Bruins and take three points, they could have had a fourth and that stings.
With 15 games left in the season, the Leafs will probably need to secure about 13 – 16 points to secure a playoff spot, and will face a fragile foe tomorrow night in the Florida Panthers. Let’s hope my presence at the game will help lift the club to victory.