Off on the Right Foot - Leafs Handle Lightning 7-3
Having ended 2011 on a mini slump (0-2-1) the Toronto Maple Leafs were looking to get off to a solid start in 2012 as they took on the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. With the Leafs struggling heading into the game and the Lightning on a hot streak (5-1-1) it seemed like the script was written before the game began. Once Vincent Lecavalier scored just over a minute in, the fans at the ACC grew restless and most blue and white supporters' stomachs began to churn. However the script was flipped on the next shift when Nazem Kadri drew a penalty. Joffrey Lupul converted a beautiful feed from Tim Connolly as the penalty expired and the Leafs were off and running. Just over five minutes later Carl Gunnarsson blasted home a one timer from the point after Lupul narrowly missed potting his second goal of the period to give Toronto a 2-1 advantage. Connolly set up Gunnarsson for his second assist of the period.
As the period came to an end though the Leafs' notorious penalty kill was called into action. The blue and white took three straight penalties in quick succession, yet managed to overcome their weakness against a potent Lightning power play by killing them off. What was more impressive was the fact that the buds withstood a 45 second two man advantage to end the period. The Lightning attempted to claw back into the game in the second period led by super pest Steve Downie. The Newmarket native drew the ire of the Maple Leafs throughout the middle frame. After goading Darryl Boyce into a penalty, Downie elbowed Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf in the corner before refusing the opportunity to fight Phaneuf, Aulie and Boyce. Downie's antics led to him receiving 16 minutes of penalties on that play. At that point in the game the Leafs had a 4-3 lead thanks to a flurry of goals that began with Steve Stamkos and ended with the aforementioned Boyce. In between those markers Mikhail Grabovski and Pavel Kubina traded goals. The Leafs weren't able to capitalize on the power play that Downie's stupidity provided them, but birthday boy Matt Frattin buried a Nazem Kadri rebound with just over 30 seconds remaining in the period to give the Leafs a 5-3 lead. People may say that Downie was the downfall for the Lightning, but the Leafs only took control of this game during his absence from play. Think what you will of Downie, but he was effective on the night and took the Leafs off of their game whenever he was on the ice.
The Leafs dominant in the third period and cruised to the victory. Toronto got power play goals from Phaneuf and Phil Kessel (his 22nd) in the third period to win their first game of the 2012 year. The wheels fell off of the Lightning in the final period, and their defense was incapable of handling the Leafs' speed all night. Jonas Gustavsson got his team leading 10th victory of the season by stopping 21 shots he faced. The Monster wasn't overly busy, but he made some solid saves when needed. Toronto's poisonous penalty kill went a perfect five for five on the night, and it seemed that every kill lifted the confidence of the bench. In the end, this was a solid building block for the Leafs, but they need to continue to improve the PK and defensive zone play on Thursday against Winnipeg or this game will be all for naught.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Joffrey Lupul - The Leafs' winger finished with four points on the night, and now sits only two points off the league leader. His first period goal was huge to get the Leafs' back into the game, and he was instrumental in both Gunnarsson's and Kessel's goal as well. Is on pace for an astounding 93 points this season.
Lightning: Steve Downie - He was the catalyst on the night for the Lightning. Directly drawing penalties from Tim Connolly, Darryl Boyce, Keith Aulie and Dion Phaneuf, Downie was the only visible sign that Tampa was awake on the night. I think he got a bit of a bad rap also with the penalty situation during that second period scrum, but it worked out for the Leafs so I'm not complaining.
Millenism of the Night
"Grabovski scores to end his little cold spell" Grabo has three goals and two assists in his last four games. What a cold spell eh Greg?
The Leafs continue their home stretch against the Jets Thursday night