Sorry about this weekend, I ended up making a very impromptu trip to see some good friends and actually didn’t even get a chance to catch the Leafs’ games on Saturday and Sunday. Thankfully, some of those friends are Ranger fans, so when we did get word on the score, it was that much sweeter that the Buds were able to pull out yet another OT victory. Plus, I think someone out there must be reading this blog, ‘cuz just after I throw up a little something about how well the Leafs have been doing in overtime, they go and win another one. I’ll give ‘em a pass on the shootout loss in Pittsburgh. Crosby is absolutely too good in the shootout (80% on the season) and Fleury ain’t too shabby either (6 wins in 8 shootouts this year).
On to tonight’s game with Atlanta. Actually ended up listening to this one on AM640, something I haven’t done in quite awhile. The announcers aren’t the same (my brother couldn’t help but point out that Jim Ralph never really has anything to add to the conversation besides the occasional “Yup.”), but it still sent me back to the days of sitting in the car driving back from a road game of my own with the old man, listening to Joe Bowen (back when the Leafs were still on the FAN 590).
The villain tonight was none other than Nik Antropov, who ranks up there on my list of most-disliked Leafs of all time. Not quite Toskala status, but close. His tip in goal early in the 3rd doused a Leaf surge that had them on the brink of winning their 12th game of the month, and also mathematically eliminated them from reaching the playoffs for the 5th straight year, extending the longest playoff drought in franchise history. Viktor Stalberg scored two goals at the end of the 2nd and start of the 3rd to tie the game at 2-2, and the Leafs looked like they were going to be the ones putting the nail in the coffin of the Thrashers’ playoff hopes.
Ondrej Pavelec played another great game for the Thrashers, stopping 27 shots, including 13 in the 3rd, although if Christian Hanson hadn’t cemented his gloves before the game, he probably would have been able to tie it late in the 3rd. Pavelec came up huge for the Thrashers a couple of times, as the Leafs really put the pressure on in the final frame.
Couple things to draw out of this one: Tyler Bozak continues to look more and more like the real deal we’re all hoping and praying he is. Ron Wilson juggled the lines a bit tonight, and we got to see the “Frat Pack” line of Hanson-Bozak-Stalberg in action. Stalberg’s first goal was the result of a great effort from Bozak, who stripped an Atlanta defender at the Toronto blueline and then burned up the sideboards before feeding Stalberg a pass that a peewee could have scored on. His combination of speed, playmaking and ever-growing hockey sense, plus the added bonus that he’s an excellent faceoff man have made him one of my favorite new Leafs.
Jonas Gustavsson was pretty solid yet again, and is putting a very nice run together to end his rookie year. Tonight was his first loss since the Olympic break, and in those 8 games, he has posted fantastic numbers. (7 wins, 2.08 GAA, .923 save percentage) This is the Monster that Brian Burke was so determined to sign last summer, and if he can carry this success into next season, the Leafs will be infinitely more competitive on that merit alone.
1. Maxim Afinogenov (1 goal, 1 assist)
2. Viktor Stalberg (2 goals, +1)
3. Nik Antropov (1 goal, 1 assist)