The Toronto Maple Leafs have played sixty four games this season. In nineteen of those games, they had a lead in the third period that they allowed the opposition to eliminate. Until today. Today.. it went up to twenty.
You’d think this would get more attention, but somehow, it’s flown under the radar. Much like New York’s penalty killing unit did tonight, until it was too late to react. Thankfully for the Leafs though, the Rangers only got to the “Game Tying Goal” stage tonight, as Tyler Bozak’s two goals were the difference maker in a 3-2 overtime victory, their first since the Olympic break.
Let’s fast forward past the first period, which was an evenly matched, no-goal, similar shot block of time with no penalties until the final minute, and go straight to the second. Two minutes in, James van Riemsdyk spotted a streaking Tyler Bozak and fed him a stretch pass. Bozak headed towards the net, but John Moore was having none of it and hooked him before he could get away, leading to a penalty shot. Rather than go for the deke, the Leafs centre opted for a headfake and a shot, slipping his thirteenth of the year past Henrik Lundqvist to give the Leafs the lead.
It was exactly what the Leafs needed at the time, with the Rangers littering Jonathan Bernier with pucks in the seconds leading to the rush. They continued this over the course of the period, albeit at a slower rate. However, none of them lead to a goal.
The start of the third period, on the other hand, was action packed. Two minutes into the third, Nikolai Kulemin pulled off a stellar takeaway and fired a shot on net. Lundqvist made the save, but Nazem Kadri popped in the rebound for his sixteenth. Things were looking good, and as Brad Richards headed to the penalty box at the five minute mark, they were looking better.
Suddenly, a turn for the worse. Ryan McDonagh channeled his inner pinball player and bounced a puck off of Dion Phaneuf’s foot and into the net, and a Phil Kessel turnover turned into a Dominic Moore break, which turned into a tie game. In thirty nine seconds, the Leafs’ lead disappeared, and they were the team with the man advantage! A second powerplay proved unsuccessful for the Leafs, though with no negative consequences.
The game eventually ended up going to overtime, and a no-look behind the net pass went from Kessel’s stick to Bozak’s to the back of the net, winning the Leafs the game.
Why The Leafs Won
Early period statements, and good positioning. All three goals were scored in the first two minutes of the period, and all of them in high percentage situations earned by anticipation of the play. This is particularly the case for the last two goals, as both Kadri and Bozak knew to get directly in front of the net and be ready to take a shot if Kulemin/Kessel’s attempted plays ended up with a puck near the blue paint.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this is a case of lightning in a bottle (I’ll have a post in a few days looking into it), but Tyler Bozak has been unreal in terms of his production of late, and tonight was the exclamation point on that statement. Worry about what’s ahead all you want, but in the present, his decisions are leading to good results on the scoreboard. As mentioned in the last point, he’s putting himself in positions to make good plays, and if as of late, they’re working out.