Every issue leftover from the game in Winnipeg Tuesday seemed to be addressed in the early going against the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins. But Sidney Crosby and company pulled yet another rabbit out of their hat late in the third period.
This game featured almost none of what the game Saturday night did. The run-and-gun style of that contest seemed to have been put in the box by both coaches.
The Toronto Maple Leafs began the game fairly sharp defensively, but failed to capitalize on a few early turnovers. One of which, James van Riemsdyk fed Phil Kessel on a two-on-one break only to see him miss the net from less than 10 feet out.
The first half of the game proved largely uneventful as both teams seemed content to wait to capitalize on the other’s mistakes. At around the midway point, the Leafs broke the ice in brilliant fashion.
JVR sprung Kessel on a lead pass, who stopped up and dropped the puck to Cody Franson, who then fed Tyler Bozak with a perfect pass to the front of the net. It wouldn’t be a stretch to name that the Leafs’ most impressive goal of the year.
Around five minutes into the final frame, the action picked up. Both teams went back and forth and Nazem Kadri appeared to have another goal on his stick, but Marc-Andre Fleury sprawled out to make the save.
Just minutes later, Chris Kunitz, Crosby and Pascal Dupuis would connect on a tic-tac-toe goal to tie the game at ones.
Despite late efforts from the Leafs, Fleury stood tall. Immediately after another big save from the Penguins goalkeeper, Dupuis put the dagger in the heart of Leafs Nation.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Leafs’ late power play was dudded by a dumped puck that trickled its way into the empty net, salting the wounds of the blue-bleeders.
The Leafs executed their gameplan nearly to perfection.Defensive play was just as Randy Carlyle would have drawn it up. They forced turnovers and stopped the Crosby line for most of the night.
Special teams looked back on track.
The penalty kill was stellar once again, forcing the Pens to retreat for dumped pucks most of the time, avoiding scoring chances.
The power play also looked back in shape. The puck movement was the visible issue in Winnipeg, especially on the 1:55 two-man advantage they squandered.
The insertion of Jean-Michael Liles into the lineup showed its worth, as he caused a couple good chances with his quick passing, both even strength and with the man up.
Scrivens looked good in net. His performance wasn’t anything flashy, but he also didn’t deal with many dangerous chances. He controlled pucks well and prevented any major chances off rebounds.
Once again, the Kessel and Kadri lines stood out in this game. As if Kadri hasn’t done enough on both sides of the puck — being tops on the team in points and second in plus/minus — he’s been drawing a ton of penalties as of late. He drew two more tonight.
Leafs fans will undoubtedly freak over the result, but the fact of the matter is they played a great game against a great team. Unlike the meltdown last year, and most of the three games prior to tonight, the Leafs are playing solid hockey.
The Leafs simply played too well to have two bad breaks chalk this game up as ‘another loss on the skid.’
They also played a much better team versus Pittsburgh than they did in Winnipeg. They elevated their game and could have easily come away with two points.
Toronto will continue their Pittsburgh/Winnipeg merry-go-round Saturday as they’ll host the Jets on Hockey Night In Canada.