After a losing streak at the HSBC Arena that lasted 2 years, 2 months and 4 days, the Leafs pulled off a monster win in Buffalo last night. It wasn’t just big because if ended that streak – it moved the Buds past the Panthers in the standings, pulled them within 4 points of the Sabres and Thrashers and left them just 3 games out of the playoff picture. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, as much as I hesitate to say it, I will cautiously admit that this playoff push is now for real. (Pause – insert Jim Mora sound byte…
It certainly won’t be easy for the Buds, but it is a realistic, if small, chance. A quick glance at the Leafs’ remaining schedule will show that 10 of their remaining 24 games are against teams in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, ranging from Carolina to the Islanders. Those games have to be considered must-wins if the playoffs are even the remotest of possibilities. Of the remaining 14 games, 10 more are against teams that are already virtually guaranteed a playoff spot (read: Philly, Washington, Tampa, Boston, Montreal, Pittsburgh). Like I said, it won’t be easy.Back to last night. Phil Kessel scored again, opening the scoring with an absolute laser show off a great pass from Tomas Kaberle, all created by some hard work from Joffrey Lupul in the corner. Lupul is looking more and more like a solid pickup, and had three golden opportunities to score last night. Obviously, he didn’t, but the thing you want to see from a goal-scoring forward, especially a bigger guy like Lupul, is that he gets to the places where he needs to be to score. If he continues to do that consistently, the goals will come, especially if he continues to carve himself a niche on that line with Kessel. Oh, by the way, when Kessel scores, the Buds are 13-4-1 on the season – 12-23-5 when he doesn’t.
Yesterday I talked about Christian Hanson and his capacity to have a big game against the Sabres. While he didn’t play poorly, it was another AHLer, Joey Crabb, that was the hero, scoring a beauty of a shorthanded goal that turned out to be the game-winner.
If you can even consider him an AHLer at this point, James Reimer played a huge role in the win as well. The rookie was called on after the first period when JS Giguere was lifted from the game with an undisclosed lower body injury, and stopped 14 of the 15 shots he faced. The one goal he did allow, he’ll probably wish he had back, as it was a bit of a squeaker, and came just minutes after Crabb had opened up a 2-0 lead, but he bounced back and made a couple big stops down the stretch to preserve the win. I know he’s only played 13 NHL games, but his 2.39 GAA ranks him just behind Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, while his .928 save percentage would put him 3rd overall.
When Jiggy was initially pulled, my first optimistic assumption was that it was trade-related, but Bob McKenzie tweeted that was not the case, so we’ll have to hope whatever injury it was is not serious. With Rynnas and Gustavsson already on the shelf, the Leafs really have no other options besides Ben Scrivens, who began the year in the ECHL.
Overall, a great game all-around from the Leafs, aside from the missed opportunities on the powerplay, which, thankfully didn’t come back to bite them. The Buds will have a few days off before returning home to face Ottawa on Saturday. Thanks for reading and Go Leafs!