Going into tonight’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Toronto Maple Leafs sat twelve points behind the eighth place Atlanta Thrashers.
With the Thrashers dropping a 4-2 decision to the Calgary Flames, the Leafs could jump up within 10 points of the final playoff spot, still a huge mountain to climb, but a loss tonight would have all but removed them from the playoff picture.
James Reimer got the start in net tonight for the Leafs, quite a risk for Ron Wilson as his team looks to add to their quickly fading playoff hopes.
As the game went on, Reimer got better, the Leafs got stronger in their play, and more players stood out to me for their increase in play than others. The Kulemin-Grabovski-MacArthur line again looked solid, but I was more impressed with the Versteeg-Brent-Armstrong line tonight. The team played hard and coming off a fresh 4-3 shootout win over the Panthers, a little confidence radiated through the team, and it showed.
Goals scored by Clarke MacArthur, Daryl Boyce, and Kris Versteeg provided offense for a stellar performance by goalie James Reimer.
The team was without newly signed forward, Mike Brown for tonights game. Brown signed a new, three year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs this past week. Brown is a speedy guy who plays the game like sandpaper, rough. He’s a tough guy who’s had a little bit of bad luck when it comes down to injuries this season, and he sat for this game against the Canes because of one. After taking a hard hit to the boards from the Panthers Keaton Ellerby, Brown was forced to the sidelines during tonights game with an upper body injury. He isn’t expected to miss a lot of time.
TOP THREE STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star – Phil Kessel
Thats right, Phil ‘The Thrill’ Kessel made my third star of the night tonight. Why you ask?
His overall game tonight was very solid. He pushed hard on the back check and was fairly effective on the fore check, but what really stood out to me tonight was Phil’s game coming through the middle of the ice. He wasn’t as predictable tonight, like when he constantly drives hard to the outside and get a weak, sharp angled shot off which is easily knocked away and the play ends. Tonight, he cut through the slot, changed the angle and had some very solid scoring chances.
He was much more creative with his moves, and you could see how hard he was playing, something I don’t think he’s been doing enough of in the last few weeks, playing hard enough.
Second Star – Tim Brent
Down two men, Tim Brent did his best Tyler Carroll and Matt Stajan impressions, blocking one, two, three shots from the point driven hard by Eric Staal. Then Brent made a great diving play to knock the puck down the rink when Mike Komisarek jumped back on the ice, topping off a great penalty kill for the Leafs forward. This isn’t the first time Brent has had a strong penalty kill to keep his team in the game. His strong PK skills kept the Leafs in an OT game against the Capitals earlier this season.
Brent earned my second star mostly for the penalty kill, but his keen ability in the faceoff circle helps tremendously.
First Star – James Reimer
The kid continues to impress, as he records his first shutout in his National Hockey League career. His 27 saves kept the Leafs in it at times when the Canes controlled the play. I mentioned Brent on the PK but Riemer came up big. The guy getting dubbed ‘Optimus Reim’ stood as tall in net again for the Leafs, making Brian Burke’s job to decide what to do with the three goaltenders even harder.
Reimer didn’t have to make any spectacular saves, ala Cam Ward, but making solid save after solid save really gives the kid a boost. He’s really starting to make a name for himself here in Toronto, and with the trade deadline looming, you have to expect that the kid is going to stick around for a while here with the Maple Leafs.
Tags: Calgary Flames Clarke MacArthur Colby Armstrong Daryl Boyce James Reimer Kris Versteeg Matt Stajan Mikhail Grabovski Nikolai Kulemin Phil Kessel Ron Wilson Steve Dangle Tim Brent Toronto Maple Leafs Tyler Carroll