I can’t tell you how happy it made me to actually write that title in a non-sarcastic manner this morning. The best part about this playoff run, and you can feel it on the players as well, is that there is very little pressure on the Leafs. This is just a young club that was counted out not too long ago, dealt some of its “better” players, and is now playing its best hockey of the season. I’m sure the locker room is a great place to be right now, between the youth and the confidence that the team must have from winning 9 of their last 15 and garnering points in all but 2 of their games since the All-Star Break.
Last night’s game was the 8th straight one goal game that the Leafs had played in, also the 8th straight game they gathered at least a point. Such a streak would have been considered damn near impossible just a short month or two ago, but this team is playing with quite a jump in its step. However, all the good work they have done will be for naught if they do not continue to play the way they have been. The rest of this week and next will have a large impact on determining how the Leafs’ playoff chances fare. The Buds face the Flyers tonight, the Blackhawks Saturday, followed by a week filled with games against the Islanders, Flyers and Sabres next week. Toronto absolutely needs to close the gap on the Sabres by the time they play next Saturday, or they will have to get a lot of outside help to make the postseason.
In a game they had to win just to keep pace with the Canes and Sabres, both of whom won on Tuesday, the Leafs twice battled back to erase Pittsburgh leads. Nikolai Kulemin’s 23rd goal of the year tied it at 1-1, giving him more goals than any other Russian player in the league except Alex Ovechkin. He also has more points than any other Russian except Ovie, Pavel Datsyuk, and Ilya Kovalchuk, who’s tied with him at 45. Hell of a year for Kulie.
Mikhail Grabovski had a number of chances throughout the game to end his personal mini-scoring drought, including a breakaway where he beat Marc-Andre Fleury but couldn’t bury the puck, but ended up saving his heroics for later. In the meantime, Phil Kessel scored his 8th goal in as many games to tie the game at 2-2 for the Buds, and later recorded his 22nd assist in overtime, feeding Grabbo the puck in the slot to move into a tie with Clarke MacArthur for the team lead in points.
Stick-tap to captain Dion Phaneuf for a hell of an effort in setting up the overtime finish. The captain lugged the puck up ice from his own end, ragged it in the Pittsburgh corner for a bit, while the Leafs got a partial change, lost the puck, got it back and fed it to Carl Gunnarsson, who put the rest of the play in motion.
Overall, it was a great game to watch at both ends of the rink, even though the Leafs were outshot badly at several points in the night. James Reimer showed no ill effects of the injury that knocked him out of the Atlanta game (thank God), and finished the game with 27 saves on 29 shots.
Topics: Alex Ovechkin, Buffalo Sabres, Carl Gunnarsson, Carolina Hurricanes, Clarke MacArthur, Dion Phaneuf, Ilya Kovalchuk, James Reimer, Marc-Andre Fleury, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Pavel Datsyuk, Phil Kessel, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs