Here You Take This One - Penguins over Leafs 5-4 in a SO
In their first game back after the all-star break the Toronto Maple Leafs demonstrated that they are more than capable of hanging with the big boys in the Eastern Conference as they attempt a strong final push for the post season. Of course they demonstrated that for the first 50 minutes of this game. Facing the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins (winners of seven straight), the Leafs carried the play building up a 4-1 lead with just over 13 minutes left in the third period thanks to two goals from Mikhail Grabovski and singles from both Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur, then the wheels fell off. Steve Sullivan scored the first of three straight Penguins goals to tie the game - the final one coming with less than 7 seconds left in the contest - before winning it in the shootout.
The Leafs had this game in the bag. Through the opening forty minutes the Leafs had chance after chance to put this game out of reach. Early in the first period Bozak had a perfectly acceptable goal waived off for goaltender interference, but that is a call that the officials would like to have back as the interference was caused by the Penguins defenseman and not the Leafs forward. Evidently outraged by that decision the Leafs attacked the Penguins relentlessly only to be thwarted by Marc-Andre Fleury, the goal post or just plain bad luck. Despite the lead and the dominant play by the blue and white, the feeling that NHL leading scored Evgeny Malkin and the rest of the Penguins would somehow find their way back into this game loomed large.
The reigning NHL first star of the week in Grabovski finally broke through for the Leafs as he put two past Fleury in the second period after the countless missed opportunities. Matt Cooke got the Pens back within one heading into the third, but two goals 19 seconds apart early in that final frame were the apparent nail in the coffin. That is until the Pens began their comeback. Malkin did get credit for the late equalizer to extend his hot streak, but he was otherwise absent for most of the night. It's funny that the Leafs may have played their most one sided game of the season tonight, and still only came away with one point. Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson would definitely like to have a couple of the Penguins goals back tonight (Sullivan's and Vitale's in particular). Look for James Reimer to be in between the pipes tomorrow as these two teams go right back at it at the Air Canada Centre.
This result will be a bitter pill to swallow for the blue and white, but they need to put it behind them and get back on the right track tomorrow night. With only 32 games left in the season there is no time to dwell on bad results. The Leafs were perfect on the penalty kill once again tonight meaning they successfully survived January without allowing a single goal while down a man. The power play also contributed as Bozak's first goal in twelve games snapped a 2 for 28 skid.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Mikhail Grabovski - The pending UFA continued his hot play as he outplayed the best player in the NHL tonight in Malkin. Grabovksi's line went head to head with Malkin's and the Leafs trio were definitely the more effective unit on the night. Grabovski is the Leafs best player at the moment. He was a beast tonight with two goals and an assist on his 28th birthday.
Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury - The Penguins netminder stopped 25 of 27 shots through the first two periods, and is the only reason that the Leafs are not heading home with two points in the standings. Fleury made countless big saves tonight five on five, on the penalty kill and even while the Penguins had the power play. He was perfect in the shootout as well stopping all three Leaf attempts. A big time goalie who stole the game tonight for his team.
Next Game: The Leafs and Penguins will finish off this home and home series tomorrow night in Toronto.