In a game that meant a whole lot more to the Thrashers than the Leafs, Toronto again played the role of spoiler to near-perfection. Earlier today, I read somewhere in the Barilkosphere that a win for the Thrashers would have given them a 28% chance of making the playoffs, while a loss would have virtually eliminated them from the realistic playoff picture. Not quite sure what the OT loss will do to them, but if they play like they did last night down the stretch, they will be joining the Leafs, Panthers, Hurricanes and others for beers on the golf course in April.
The only reason Atlanta even garnered a point in this one was the play of Ondrej Pavelec and his goalposts. Pavelec turned in a very impressive 29 save performance, while the Buds rang the iron at least 4 times throughout the game. Jonas Gustavsson was solid yet again, stopping 19 of 20 shots, and winning his 6th consecutive start. His GAA is now a much more respectable 2.86, and he has now won 15 games in his rookie year.
Phil Kessel continued his recent offensive tear, scoring his 29th of the year just a couple minutes after Zach Bogosian gave the Thrashers a 1-0 lead in the first. In his last 11 games, Kessel has scored at a point-per-game pace, with 8 goals and 3 assists to his credit. With 52 points in 62 games, he’s actually not that far off from averaging a point-per-game this entire season. Take out that 12 game scoring drought, and he might even be above that number.
An interesting point to note about the Leafs’ recent success: prior to the Olympic break, Toronto was 1-11 in overtime games, with their only win coming in a shootout against Washington back in November. Since the break, the Leafs have won 6 overtime games, 3 of which went to the shootout. It’s tough to figure out what makes such a big difference in their fortunes in the extra frame. Obviously the pressure has been squarely on the shoulders of the Leafs’ opponents, who undoubtedly view a game with Toronto as a chance for 2 easy points in their playoff quests. Improved play in net, mainly from Gustavsson, has made a huge difference. The Monster had 7 overtime losses without a single win before beating the Senators in his first start this month. He’s since won 3 more games in extra time, giving him a 4-7 record in OT.
With 12 overtime losses, the Leafs have lost more overtime games than 24 other teams in the league. Only Dallas and Detroit have more. Twelve times, the Leafs were within one single lucky (or in most cases, unlucky) bounce of winning the game. Six of the 12 times, the Leafs outshot their opponent. Now imagine if the Leafs had won just half their overtime losses, say, just the ones where they outshot their opponent and probably deserved to win. 6 more points would put the Leafs just 6 points out of the playoffs at this point in the season. Take into account the fact that the teams that won those games would also have a point or two less, and the Leafs could very easily be within a game or two of challenging for the playoffs. Wishful thinking at its best, I know, but it’s tough to watch a team struggle with an aspect of the game all season long, only to become almost dominant in it when it no longer matters. Such is the life of a Leaf fan, I suppose.