Jonas Just Sucks - Devils over Leafs 4-3 in OT
In what was a crucial game for the Toronto Maple Leafs following an abysmal western Canadian road trip, the Leafs were undone by goalie Jonas Gustavsson on home ice. Toronto came out of the gate with a purpose to show that the lack luster performances that they have had in their past six games (1-5-0) was a thing of the past. The Leafs attacked the Devils through the first seven minutes of the game outshooting them 6-0 and pushing for that opening goal. New Jersey did not resemble the team that was 8-1-1 in their past ten games as they couldn't keep up with the Leafs' speed and intensity.
Although the Leafs were dominating it was the Devils who struck first as veteran Petyr Sykora buried his own rebound past a helpless Gustavsson. Sykora's goal came soon after the Leafs had killed off a Devils power play and with a tired and mismatched group on the ice. Sykora though was gifted the goal by Gustavsson who gave up too large a rebound to the Devils winger. As the Leafs attempted to put that goal past them and reignited themselves, they soon found themselves down two goals as Leafs killer David Clarkson put a weak and harmless wrist shot through the legs of Gustavsson. The Leafs entered tonight determined and played with a purpose, yet were down two to nothing on a pair of soft goals. At that point it would have been easy for the Leafs to fold up and coast to another loss. However 16 seconds after Clarkson's goal Tim Connolly got one back for the Leafs off of a deflection and the bench was awake again.
There was some controversy following the Connolly goal as Leafs captain flattened Devils star winger Zach Parise in the corner with a couple of clean checks. Clarkson came to the aid of the apparently injured Devils captain and goaded Phaneuf into a fight. The fight stopped play just as the Leafs were charging for the equalizer, and following the fight the period ended with the Leafs unjustly down a goal.
Toronto pressed in the second period for the tying goal throughout the second period and had a number of quality chances. First Tyler Bozak missed the net on a great feed from Phil Kessel. Clarke MacArthur was stopped by the pad of Greg Millen's idol Martin Brodeur. The Devils goalie then flashed the leather as he gloved a Phaneuf blast from just outside the circles. Gustavsson meanwhile was fortunate to not have surrendered a third goal as Parise missed a wide open net following another poor Gustavsson rebound. With just over five minutes remaining in the period the Leafs managed to finally claw themselves to equal terms as MacArthur beat Brodeur following some nice work along the boards by Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. The goal was MacArthur's 18th on the season and a huge marker for the desperate Leafs team. Unfortunately Gustavsson let his team down again though. This time former Leaf Alexei Ponikarovski found himself in front of the Leafs keeper and once again deposited the puck in the grand canyon that is Jonas' five hole. The Leafs had played a hard fought and intense forty minutes of hockey and yet found themselves once again behind the eight ball because of crappy goaltending.
Not much was expected of the Leafs in the third period. Considering they were attempting to tie up the game against a team that is notorious for shutting the game down and closing it out when up after two periods. Toronto though kept coming, the Leafs had some good chances thanks to the hard work along the boards by Joey Crabb and Nikolai Kulemin but both Connolly and defenseman Cody Franson were unable to bury the opportunities when they arose. Gustavsson managed to make some big saves in the third period specifically stopping Ilya Kovalchuk on a breakaway as well as Parise on the rebound, yet the damage appeared to have already been done. With just over a minute left the crowd at the ACC was heading for the exits and the Leafs were seemingly once again on their way to a loss, yet that was when Tyler Bozak picked up a loose puck and stormed into the Devils zone. Bozak threw the puck at the net and Kessel outfought three Devils defenseman to bang in the tying goal. It was a big moment for the young and hungry Leafs, as they once again scratched their way back to level terms. It was a huge point for the scrambling buds, and all the momentum seemed to be on their side heading into overtime.
Just over a minute into OT Kessel fed rookie Jake Gardiner with a pass and the blueliner narrowly missed the winner as he clanged one off the post. Both Grabovksi and Kessel couldn't put the bouncing puck past the prone Brodeur and into the empty net. The play went up the ice where Devils defenseman Mark Fayne (just trying to get the puck deep) lofted one wide towards the net, that was when Gustavsson saved his best for last. "The Monster" slid to his left and attempted to corral the wide puck, but in the process accidentally directed the puck into his own net for the winning goal. Not only was I stunned and watching in silence, but so was the Leafs bench. A team that laid it all on the line against the hottest team in the league and a tough opponent couldn't believe what they just saw.
The Leafs certainly deserved better on this night, and if they play like they did tonight in front of James Reimer than the playoffs will most likely be achieved this season. As for Gustavsson, this should be the pending UFA's final start for the Leafs. The display tonight was one in which Leaf fans have unfortunately been forced to endure for the past three seasons. Other than a blip in the radar in January of this year, the Gustavsson of tonight was the one that has been disappointing and frustrating both the fanbase and the team since he signed with the blue and white.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Clarke MacArthur - He was relentless tonight in trying to create offense for the Leafs. In my opinion this was his best game of the season as he won countless battles along the boards and created chaos with his speed. A seemingly big goal late in the second period, the Leafs need this MacArthur to return for the remaining 21 games.
Devils: Ilya Kovalchuk - Although he did get an assist on the game winning goal tonight, the biggest impact that Kovy had on the game was in his own zone. The enigmatic Russian winger used his big body to get the puck out of the defensive zone on numerous occasions tonight. He was also huge on the penalty kill as he ragged the puck and had some dangerous short handed opportunities.
Bowenism of the Night: "Why don't they teach goalies to play like Brodeur" Maybe because they won't be able to match the athleticism of perhaps the greatest goalie of all time. His style is one in which if you didn't have his innate physical skills than you would be a laughing stock. Much like you are Joe.
Next Game: The Leafs will host the Western Conference power house San Jose Sharks on Thursday at the ACC.