It's Not How It's How Many - Leafs over 'Canes 2-1 in OT
On a night in which the Toronto Maple Leafs were desperate for a win, the bottom feeding Carolina Hurricanes appeared to be the perfect tonic to their woes. Carolina entered having lost 8 of their last 9 games, and were without leading scorer Jeff Skinner. The Hurricanes were the hanging curve ball to the Leafs' struggling slugger, and boy did the Leafs take a mighty swing at them.
Toronto came out of the gate possessed and outshot their opposition 13-5 in the first period, and 13-7 in the second. With a weak Hurricanes defense unable to keep up with Toronto's speed, the boys in blue and white attacked in waves creating countless prime scoring opportunities through the first two periods. Top scorers Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel were sprung three different times on two on ones, while Nikolai Kulemin seemed to re-emerge from hibernation to dominate with his size and speed. Even the pointless wonder that is Phillipe Dupuis had a couple of great chances in the opening forty minutes.
However despite the fact that the Leafs dominated the Hurricanes so thoroughly both teams entered the third period tied 0-0. With Cam Ward standing on his head and seemingly refusing to allow the Leafs to pile onto his teams misfortune, the Leafs were left shaking their heads at his stellar play. On the other end of the ice James Reimer was hardly challenged, yet when he was the Leafs' #1 came up with some big saves to keep his team in the game. Carolina hardly troubled Reimer, but they did have some good chances. Having seen goalies come into the ACC in the past and stand on their heads only to have the Leafs' goalie allow a soft and deflating goal on the other end too often, Reimer displayed again tonight his abilities to lead the Leafs to W's.
Leaf centre Tim Connolly eventually ended the stalemate by tipping home a Clarke MacArthur wrist shot with less than five minutes left in the third period. With the Leafs almost returning to full strength the offensive balance on the top three lines has become a huge factor. Armstrong, Connolly and MacArthur had a strong night, while the line of Frattin, Grabovski and Kulemin is really developing some chemistry lately. These two lines in support of Lupul, Bozak and Kessel provides Ron Wilson some great options going forward.
Alex Ponikarovsky slotted home an Eric Staal pass late in the third on the power play after Lupul took an ill advised high sticking penalty. Lupul's penalty continues the undisciplined epidemic that has gone through this Leafs team as of late. While all fingers are pointed at the struggling penalty kill, the Leafs need to begin to stop slashing at sticks, stop flipping the puck over the glass and control their sticks. With the Leafs' speed they should be the ones getting the bulk of the calls, not the other way around.
Lupul redeemed himself in overtime though by first blasting a shot through Ward, and then fighting two Hurricanes to get the loose puck over to Connolly who banged home his second of the game. Connolly's two goals give him 15 points in 18 games this season as he seems to be hitting his stride as the Leafs head into Buffalo where Connolly played for eight seasons.
Jake Gardiner once again led the Leafs in ice time tonight with 24:14, while fellow rookie Matt Frattin continues to punish people physically as he completely destroyed former Leaf Ponikarovsky with an open ice hit. Lately it seems that Frattin is made of adamantium the way opposing players explode him.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Nikolai Kulemin - The slumping Leafs winger was a force all night. He bulled past the Hurricanes defense on numerous occasions, while punishing them physically on the forecheck. If Kulemin can begin to win puck battles along the boards again the Leafs (and Kulemin) will achieve some good results.
Hurricanes: Cam Ward - The all-star goalie and former Conn Smyth winner stopped 36 of 38 shots on the night, and was the main reason this game wasn't a blow out. He earned a point on his own tonight for Carolina.
Bowenism of the Night
"The Leafs with some razmatazz on that play"
Next Game: The Leafs head to Buffalo to face the division rival Sabres Friday night.