October 30 2013 10:49PM
HEY DID YOU KNOW THAT THING ABOUT THE C'S? Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs had lost four games this year, going into tonight's game. Yes, their losses came against Carolina, Chicago, Colorado, and Columbus, whose city names all start with the letter C. Yes, Calgary also starts with that letter, and no, the Illuminati isn't out to get you. More important than alphabetical curses tonight was the chance to take a four point lead on the Atlantic Division. This was a night where exorcism and lead extension were in play, however, and the Leafs extended their Western Canada road trip record to 2-0-0 going into the conclusion.
The Leafs were under pressure from the start. Despite the jokes and low expectations that surround the Flames, tonight was a textbook example of the hunger an underdog roster can have, taking aim at Jonathan Bernier early and often. Frazer McLaren tried to get some of the balance of shots restored in the form of fists to Brian McGrattan's face, but even that came to no avail. Opportunity struck when Dennis Wideman headed to the penalty box for a slash. The first minute and a half of the powerplay was very uncoordinated and played mostly in the Neutral Zone, until finally setting up in the final seconds. The powerplay ended, but before Wideman could rush back, Joffrey Lupul beat Kari Ramo with an up-close wrister to give Toronto the lead.
The period wasn't quite don, though. With Dave Bolland in the box and the Leafs on the penalty kill, Ramo took the final seconds to admire the scoreboard and prepare for crease exit. At least, that would be the best excuse for his poor reaction to James van Riemsdyk, who snapped home his seventh of the year with just four seconds remaining in the period.
Calgary continued to litter the net in the second period, but Jonathan Bernier stayed calm and collected, even as the shot count crossed 30 for the Flames before his team could hit 15. Alas, something had to give, and you just knew it would be a former Leaf to break the shutout. In this case, it was Matt Stajan bringing the game within one with three minutes left int he middle frame. For those who love momentum, this came seven seconds after Carter Ashton's nose became a landing pad for Shane O'Brien's punches, responding to a questionable hit from the Leafs rookie.
The pace of the game began to even out as it approached it's conclusion, but that didn't mean an end to the scoring. David Clarkson, looking for his first point as a member of the blue and white, toe-dragged a Flames defender and fired at the net, but didn't convert. Mason Raymond, however, was there for the rebound, and scored his fifth of the year. Calgary cut the lead back to one with just over five minutes to go, with a Kris Russell shot that bounced off of David Jones and into the net, but that was the closest the game got. With Clarkson in the box, Paul Ranger scored the second shorthanded goal of the night for the Leafs, securing the win.
Why the Leafs Won / Blue Warrior
There's no point in making these into sepearate topics. Jonathan Bernier was simply lights out, stopping 41 of 43 shots. Meanwhile, 43 was also the amount of shots attempted by the Leafs tonight, with just 21 of them getting to Kari Ramo. Getting three past him certainly helped things, but even an average performance by Bernier sends this game to overtime at best, and leads to a loss at worst.
As critical as I was when the Leafs acquired Bernier, wondering why they were trying to fix a position that wasn't broken, I must admit that the stability between the pipes has been a godsend in a year like this. If at least one of the goalies is capable of staying in form at any given time, the team can be as unsustainable or mean-regressing as they want.
- Paul Ranger's goal was his first since October 10th, 2010
- The first line was shut down tonight, but JVR and Kadri found ways to get points elsewhere. In an increasingly rare turn of evends, Phil Kessel was left empty handed.
- Stajan's goal ended a 150 minute shutout streak for the two goaltenders in the province of Alberta
- The Leafs are the first team in the Eastern Conference to hit 20 points on the season. Yes, they're one of two to play 14 games, but the Buffalo Sabres are stuck at the bottom with just five, so..
- Scoring goals on the penalty kill is fun, and the Lupul goal was close enough, but the powerplay needs to wake up at some point, do they not?
- Similarly, the defence might want to add a goal or two to the collection soon. Ranger's empty netter was the first from a blue liner not named Dion Phaneuf this year.
- The Leafs are back in action on Saturday night, against the Vancouver Canucks. Hey, if you want to believe in superstitions still, we'll say they beat Kalgary tonight and they're headed to canVouver! Or not, because that's dumb.