The Toronto Maple Leafs dropped their sixth straight hockey game tonight, losing 5-3 to the St. Louis Blues. The Leafs actually grabbed a rare early lead with a Joffrey Lupul power-play marker, before being thoroughly dominated for the rest of the first period and most of the second as well. The Blues fired 23 shots on the Leafs’ goal in the first period alone, and by the end of the second they were up 4-1 on the scoreboard.
As Leafs fans know all too well, even a 4-1 lead isn’t safe in hockey. Carl Gunnarsson fired a slap shot from the high slot after a brutal turnover by Alex Pietrangelo behind the Blues’ net. With just over four minutes left in the game, James van Rimesdyk potted a goal from in close after a great individual effort by Phil Kessel and all of a sudden the Leafs were only down one.
However, the Leafs have made it their trademark during this six-game slide to fall just short in comeback attempts, and tonight was no different. The Leafs didn’t really test Blues goaltender Ryan Miller the rest of the way, and David Backes added an empty-net goal for the hat trick and just like that, all hope of a comeback was lost.
Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier made his return from a groin injury, and probably wished he had sat one more game out after that tire fire of a first period. Bernier made a few big saves in that period to keep the game respectable, although he would probably like to have a couple of goals back. He ended up with 44 saves on 48 shots, which is a lot of saves for a goaltender to have to make, so the Leafs’ defense once again deserves much of the blame for allowing the Blues to spend so much time in their end of the ice.
Dion Phaneuf had another rough game. On one Blues’ goal, he hesitated to clear the puck on the penalty kill, had it blocked and eventually got it just over his own blue line. The Blues promptly skated the puck in and it was in the back of the net thanks to a partial breakaway by Backes in just a few seconds.
Phaneuf wasn’t the only d-man who struggled in this one. The Cody Franson-Jake Gardiner pairing showed their penchant of playing some truly awful defense, turning the puck over and failing to clear it on numerous occasions.
As you can tell from this nifty win expectancy chart from ExtraSkater.com, after the first period, the Leafs never really had a chance:
In other news, the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Detroit Red Wings in regulation and the Washington Capitals lost to the Los Angeles Kings in a shootout. That means the Leafs, Red Wings, Blue Jackets and Capitals are all tied in points, but the Leafs are technically last in that group because they have two less games remaining than the Wings and Jackets and one less than the Caps. They’ll need at least six wins in their last eight games to have a chance at the postseason.