Maybe Zach Parise said it best after the Leafs’ latest win over the Devils last night. “They play hard, they play well. Sometimes those are the toughest teams to play against when they’ve got nothing, really, to play for at this time of the year.”
In a phenomenon that has haunted the Leafs for the last few seasons, just when they’re about 3 or 4 losses away from being mathematicaly eliminated from the playoffs, they go on a run that, had it occurred in January or December instead of March, might have them right in the thick of things. Instead, as usual, all the Leafs are playing for now is draft position. Only difference this year is that Leaf fans won’t be upset if they somehow manage to play their way out of a lottery pick.
Phil Kessel must be reading all the conversation about how terrible the trade was that brought him to Toronto, because he is doing his best, albeit a bit late, to carry the Leafs out of the basement. Phil had his 5th goal in the last 6 games and scored a beauty in the shootout to help the Leafs win their 6th game this month. Nikolai Kulemin and John Mitchell also beat Yann Danis in the tiebreaker, improving Toronto to 6-3-1 since the Olympic break.
Howard Berger had a great piece today entitled “How real are the new Leafs?” It’s a question most Leaf fans are probably asking themselves right now, as the focus has all but shifted to what next year may hold. One thing Berger notes is that, while the Leafs have a history of being successful when it matters least, the difference this year, is that the overhaul of the roster is already well underway, and instead of the same old faces that struggled all year, we’re now getting a chance to see great young talents like Bozak, Caputi and Stalberg get their shot at a regular NHL shift.
Tonight was a full team effort that saw some solid play from just about every forward line and defensive pairing. The penalty kill was perfect, killing off all 4 Leaf penalties, including one with under 4 minutes that, earlier in the year, would have undoubtedly resulted in a costly goal. The top line got another goal, Giguere made a couple huge saves, including one on the aforementioned penalty kill. The defense played pretty well and, for the most part, managed to avoid turning the puck over in their own end. Colton Orr did his part, dropping Andrew Peters in his 21st fight of the season. Incidentally, if you’re keeping track, Orr is 12-4-5 on the season, according to dropyourgloves.com.
The Leafs have tonight off, before hosting Montreal on Saturday. Toronto will have their work cut out for them, as the Habs are perhaps the hottest team in the league right now. 7-3-0 over their last ten, Montreal has lost only one game since the Olympic break, and even that was a solid showing for them, as they lost 3-2 in San Jose. Should be a good game either way, as the Leafs have played the Canadiens tough all year. Montreal currently leads the season series 3-1, but all three of their wins have come in either overtime or by way of shootout.
1. JS Giguere – 24 saves
2. Phil Kessel – 1 goal, 1 shootout goal, 6 shots, 11 shots attempted, 1 blocked shot
3. Yann Danis – 25 saves