April 03 2014 08:59PM
Sometimes hockey reminds you that it's a sport, it's meant to be entertaining, and not meant to be enjoyed as an intellectual pursuit. The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Thursday's game against the Boston Bruins requiring a win, and having an excellent chance to do so facing a tired squad playing their backup goaltender.
Until the very end, the outcome was in doubt. The City of Toronto can finally take a well-deserved pee and quit chewing their nails. A 3-1 lead to the Bruins was washed away amid a flurry of scoring chances in the Maple Leafs end. Starter Jonathan Bernier was hurt and James Reimer had to play his first minutes in a week-and-a-half to protect a one-goal lead. He didn't succeed, but Tyler Bozak, of all people, drew a penalty in overtime and it was Nazem Kadri who got to play hero.
The Leafs are still faintly alive in the 2014 playoff chase.
The game began with chances exchanged at either end. The Leafs are notorious for giving up shots, but you always feel they have a chance against Boston. The teams are Harry Potter and Voldemort at this point, irrevocably linked by the Tuukka Rask trade, the Phil Kessel trade, and the ultimate collapse in last season's playoffs. For years, the Leafs have watched a division rival win playoff rounds and everything in between, playing a style of game that would be appreciated in the 905 district more than you can ever imagine, with tough, gritty, big players and flashy, skilled forwards.
This game was exciting, from beginning to end, and it was fast. Boston had the early lead in scoring chances, but missed the net and were foiled by Leafs starter Bernier. Finally, Paul Ranger chipped a rebound opportunity past Bruins backup Chad Johnson (if James Duthie is reading this, never call Johnson "Ocho Save-o" ever again) to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead:
Unfortunately, that was given right back as Cody Franson—yes, again it was Franson—made an awful pass that wound up on Brad Marchand's stick who wired a wrister past Bernier for a 1-1 tie.
Not to say that Franson has had a rough couple of months, but I understand that his jersey is a top-seller in Columbus behind Ryan Johansen's.
Towards the end of the first, Phil Kessel spotted an opportunity with a clogged crease, and threw a puck in front which banked in off Tyler Bozak's
stick arm? crest? pectoral? jagon and into the net for a 2-1 lead.
It was at this moment that you knew a Leafs goal was coming:
Early in the second period, Dougie Hamilton turned a puck over to Kessel (note to narrative writers: Jackpot!) who fed it to James van Riemsdyk for Kessel's second assist in 1:04 of elapsed game time. Van Riemsdyk now has 30 goals on the season for the first time in his career, and the Leafs were up 3-1.
The teams traded chances throughout the period and Toronto eventually wound up taking a slim lead on the shot clock, though after two, the Bruins had a 32-28 unblocked shot attempt advantage on the Leafs. Boston was missing the net a lot and having the better possession, but pucks were rolling off sticks and Bernier looked as strong as he had to be. In the third, it was all Bernier early on, but Milan Lucic found some soft ice behind David Clarkson and ripped home a one-timer to give the Bruins their second.
A little later, Paul Ranger knocked Patrice Bergeron into Bernier, and, yeah:
Bernier was shaken up. There's some speculation he isn't 100% and still ailing with that groin injury and he noticeably limped off as James Reimer warmed up for his first game action since early in the second period last Sunday. Reimer entered to cheers, and a big glove save off Torey Krug's stick, stopping three shots on the Bruins powerplay resulting from Ranger's interference.
Unfortunately, David Bolland, the collapse-proof David Bolland, per one high-ranking Leafs executive, lost sight of Bergeron and, yeah:
Boston had an 8-3 attempts advantage from then until the end of the game, brought up at the end on a phantom Nik Kulemin holding call, but the Leafs got the best chance, with Jay McClement and van Riemsdyk nearly combining on a goal right at the end of regulation shorthanded.
In OT, Bozak drew a call on Krug, setting up a chance for Kadri:
WHY THE LEAFS WON
They got back to basics. The Leafs got two goals from not the first line, kept their composure and avoided bad penalties, skated with the Bruins in the second period and other than the mid 3rd period when they were sitting back on the one-goal lead, generally skated toe-to-toe with Boston.
The "basics" in this case also involve incredible goaltending, however. Reimer and Bernier combined for 35 saves on 38 Bruins shots. Bernier stopped a two-on-oh in the second and a two-on-one in the third, and the Leafs were able to stay alive, against all odds.
Still, the Leafs weren't winning with a bit of a PDO advantage in this one. Despite being out-shot "just" 38-31, the Leafs were out-Corsi'd 80-46 as they spent a lot of time in their own end. David Clarkson in particular had a rough night, with the Leafs getting 5 shot attempts to Boston's 23 with the big lug on the ice. He also took two punches to the face courtesy of Lucic and wasn't on the bench at the start of the third.
It was great to see Nazem Kadri step up big the winner. He's been ostracized a little in the Toronto media you can tell for not having a season as productive as last year's, even though he could crack 50 points as a second-line centreman, which is very good for somebody in that position. He led the Leafs' in Corsi with minus-3 (yeah, it was one of those nights) in his limited ice-time, and took three shots on net.
He was basically playing tonight on his own, and while he didn't win the game on his own, at least he'll be a positive story in the press for the next couple of days.
Also, some points to Reimer for coming in, with a 1-0 lead, facing a Bruins powerplay, and picking up the win after stopping 10-of-11. He was the second best goalie for the Leafs in this game, but that was a hell of a performance considering his confidence, plus having to come in cold.
- The Leafs remain one back of Columbus, but the Jackets have two games in hand and a one-goal lead in one of those games (against Dallas, suspended earlier in the season due to Rich Peverley's heart event on the bench). Both Washington and New Jersey are within striking distance should they win their games in hand, but only the Devils hold the first tiebreaker on the Leafs, which is regulation or overtime wins.
- Dion Phaneuf took the matchup against the Bruins top line and got crushed possession-wise. Granted, he started 9 shifts in the defensive end to 2 in the offensive end, but was out-attempted 11-12 on the ice as the Bruins ran roughshod with their top line.
- On the second half of a back-to-back, the Bruins fourth line saw a lot of minutes early, giving the Bruins an opportunity to roll their top two lines heavy in the third.
- Bergeron took eight shots on net overall. He's real good.