Many people who aren’t from here have a tendency to describe Toronto as "Hell on Earth". This is mostly out of jealously, but with last night considered, they may have a point. I mean, the city freezes over and both the Leafs and the Raptors dominate their high-flying opponents from Chicago? Even I’m a little skeptical…
Last night was arguably the best Leafs game of the season, and while getting those results against a powerhouse is a bit unexpected, there was nothing flukey about how they got this win.
As evidenced above, the Leafs pulled off the amazing feat of keeping up with the Hawks for the entire 60 minutes, and came out of the gate flying. Just seven minutes into the game, with Andrew Shaw in the penalty box, Peter Holland took in a cross crease pass from Joffrey Lupul, banging it home on the third or fourth take. The lead wouldn’t last long – penalties to Holland and Mason Raymond gave the Hawks a 5 on 3, and a desperate dive to intercept a pass by Dion Phaneuf ended up working, but sending the puck past Jonathan Bernier to tie the game.
The Leafs regained the lead just forty two seconds into the second period. Beating Duncan Keith to a Nikolai Kulemin rebound, Jerry D’Amigo gave the puck a bit of Peter Forsberg touch for his first NHL goal. Goals started to come quickly in the second half of the period, starting with Holland striking again, this time converting Raymond’s cross-crease pass on his first attempt. A minute and a half later, James van Riemsdyk coughed up a Morgan Rielly pass to Patrick Kane, who notched his second goal of the night as a result. But continuing the one-upmanship, Kulemin converted on a slot wrister to give Toronto a 4-2 lead. Before the period could close, Lupul made the most out of a powerplay by tipping a Jake Gardiner point shot to end Antti Raanta’s night.
In came Kent Simpson for Chicago, and just twenty eight seconds into his career, on his first shot against… he was beat by Lupul to make the score 6-2. Brandon Saad tipped in Nick Leddy’s point slapper to give the Hawks a bit of life in the final few minutes, but even then, he was responded to by Phil Kessel within a minute. Finishing up a fantastic pass by Nazem Kadri, Kessel’s 17th goal of the season wrapped up the scoring and gave the ACC fans their 7-3 final score.
Why The Leafs Won
Minus the obvious "they put pucks on net", the lineup shakeup seemed to make this team much more mobile. While Morgan Rielly and John-Michael Liles were sloppy at times, they were no worse defensively than Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger are on even decent nights, and were much better at rushing and distributing the puck. Jerry D’Amigo is much better at playing hockey than the enforcers, in pretty much every facet. Kadri and Holland didn’t look out of place playing big centre minutes.
This feels a lot like last year’s playoffs. A bunch of injuries/suspensions (and in the case of Ranger and Fraser, a couple of worse than already skepticism-causing nights) forced Randy Carlyle into making decisions that, while they don’t line up with his typical philosophies, make the Leafs play significantly better against good teams. I wonder if one of these situations will give him his "come-to-Jesus" moment. In the mean time, here’s hoping that these skating, rushing Leafs stick around a bit. If nothing else, they’re way more entertaining to watch.
Between Raymond and Lupul having 4 point nights, Peter Holland having his best game of his career, D’Amigo having a night to remember, and so many others playing so well, I can’t decide. So I’m going to give it to this dude:
— Jeff Veillette (@Jeffler) December 15, 2013
- The Leafs became the first Eastern Conference team to score 7+ on the Blackhawks in the Salary Cap era yesterday. The last team to do so was the Atlanta Thrashers on October 18th, 2003.
- Trevor Smith was a stellar 71% at the faceoff dot.
- Very quietly, Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner found their way into playing more minutes than the Phaneuf-Gunnarsson pairing. Gunnarsson in particular played just 15 minutes.
- Phil Kessel was the only Leafs player not credited with a hit last night.
- Yesterday’s attendance of 19,603 was the highest of the season at Air Canada Centre.
- The two teams combined for just 12 penalty minutes.
- The Leafs outshot or tied Chicago in all three periods.
Photo courtesy of Brennan Love (@brennanlove)