Leafs Nation was left scratching their heads and asking “How?”, while the critics laughed and said “I told you so.”
The Carolina Hurricanes rolled into the Air Canada Centre Thursday night and escaped with a narrow 3-2 victory. But the game was far from close.
In the opening minute, Reimer bobbled a puck and had to jump out a couple feet to cover it up but Leivo –flying at a good speed in coverage– was unable to avoid him. Man down.
Enter Jonathan Bernier
Despite being dealt four power plays in the game, Toronto managed to be out-shot by another wide margin. Spoiler alert: The Leafs goaltending took over.
Carolina’s frustration became clear as they began to push the action and started to pinch… in the second period in a scoreless game.
Lupul was able to capitalize and not long after, Leivo caught the ‘Canes on another counterattack to notch his first career goal. From there on out, it became The Bernier Show.
Bernier continued to show why he was a former first-round pick. His calmness and robot-like saves are something to admire. His vertical net coverage is remarkable as well as his ability to control rebounds.
Lupul continued his scorching hot streak with yet another goal. Aside from Bernier, he was the best Leaf on the ice. When something did seem to happen offensively, Lupul was usually in on it.
The Gong Show
In the third period, the Leafs sat on their lead as badly as you can sit on one. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought the Blue & White were dealt a red card and forced to play with a man short the entire period.
Just when it seemed like a puck couldn’t beat Bernier, a power play deflection off a Leaf stick flew past him to cut the lead in half. He continued to make save after save until Eric Staal got a puck served to him on a platter in the slot and he made no mistake.
Then the unthinkable.
Carolina defenseman Ron Hainsey dumps the puck from about 180 feet. Bernier, either confused by the new rules or taking a nap, decides not to play the puck, and — LOOKOUT! PLAY IT BERNIER, PLAY IT!! — motions for it with his stick while standing ever-so nonchalantly in his net and misses the puck as it ricochets off his skate and in. From “Larceny” to “Lord Have Mercy” in swift and epic fashion.
Let’s be fair, the Hurricanes were the far more dominant team and the Leafs, as a unit, certainly did not deserve to win. This was the game every Leaf skeptic has been waiting for. The game where it all falls apart on the back end.
This game could have easily been a blowout but Bernier kept the game close and had Leafs Nation wishing for another shutout. He was beat by a deflection while short-handed and then by a point-blanker by Carolina’s top sniper. Great game for Bernier, right? Oh yeah…about that. It really is a shame Bernier’s stellar outing will be completely tarnished by that winning goal…The Icing Goal.
Thursday night was not a night to boast about special teams. Toronto went 0-for-4 on the power play and allowed one goal on four times shorthanded. The penalty kill put in some good work but just got beat with that fluky deflection with 30 seconds left in the penalty. And hey, maybe our friends over at NHL.com can help us out with some PK minutes, seeing how the entire third period was a penalty kill…minus the penalty.
Short-Handed While At Even Strength
As mentioned above, the 5-on-5 was puzzling after the opening 20 minutes as they were out-shot 14-6 in the second period and 14-8 in the third. Toronto played a decent game in the first period, generating some scoring chances and playing well as a unit. But it seemed as soon as Lupul capitalized on a Carolina turnover, that the ‘Canes took over.
Desperation mode clicked in for the visitors and the home side had no response. After Leivo found the twine for the two-goal lead, the Leafs got out their lawn chairs and started cracking their beers.
Whether it had more to do with them sitting on a lead or not, Toronto’s 5-on-5 play was frightening. At the same time, they didn’t have the lead until the third period and were utterly dominated for most of the last 40 minutes.
The time of possession category has to improve for the Leafs. Thursday’s game was as bad as it gets. They had a two-goal lead they were just unable to hold on to and the power play couldn’t come in and save the day or provide insurance on this night.
The perfect storm finally hit as it was the penalty kill that bent at the wrong time, in retrospect, as it was that goal that began to roll the snow ball. Solid special teams is necessary but even-strength play is simply the most important phase of the game, as most of the minutes are played 5-on-5.
Goaltending was stellar, although James Reimer’s injury status puts a cloud in the goaltending situation, as well as his potential trade value. Both ways, a speedy recovery is needed and we just wish him all the best. It’s hard not to pull for a guy like Reimer.
Reality of the situation? This style of play has gotten the Leafs six wins, yet this loss has such a different feel to it. Bernier’s hiccup cost them at least a point, but again, the game should not have been close. As is the case for most of the wins this season.
Goaltenders are a major piece of a team but shouldering the amount of work on them every night as the Leafs have is worrisome. Eight games in and a 6-2 record says we need a bigger sample size.
Regardless, Toronto has to find a way to sustain more pressure and put more pressure on the opposing goalie, not their own.