Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly picked a perfect time to end a personal five-game point drought.
With his team leading 2-1 in the third period of Saturday’s matchup against Detroit, Rielly picked up the puck at the Leafs blue line, sped down the left wing and fired the puck past netminder Petr Mrazek for to give Toronto some breathing room.
An empty-netter by Nazem Kadri rounded out the scoring in a 4-1 Leafs win; a fitting result for a game in which the home team dominated possession at Air Canada Centre, outshooting Detroit 41-28.
Even though the outcome resulted in two points for the Leafs as was the case three days earlier in the Motor City, the dynamics of the games were completely different. Whereas Toronto was fortunate to win in a shootout on Wednesday, the Saturday matchup was all but decided when Rielly found the back of the net.
It was Rielly’s fourth goal of the year and 14th by a Leafs defenceman this season.
The 72-hour turnaround was particularly noticeable for Rielly, who rebounded from a sluggish effort by showing the poise and confidence that made him a fifth-overall draft pick two summers ago,
“I think that when we played on the road against them, they were coming with a lot of speed,” Rielly said of the comparison between the two games. “We spent a lot of time working on that in practice and meetings, and I think that went well.”
James van Riemsdyk got the Leafs on the board in the first period just 60 seconds after Detroit opened the scoring. Both tallies were on the power play.
The prettiest goal of the night was reserved for Richard Panik, who converted on a breakaway after receiving an outlet pass from Korbinian Holzer. Panik tucked the puck through Mrazek’s five-hole on the backhand for his career-high sixth marker of the 2014-15 campaign.
Jonathan Bernier made 28 saves as the Leafs won their fourth game in a row, having lost just once in regulation in ten games since being demolished 9-2 by Nashville on November 18 (8-1-1).
Coach Randy Carlyle was more than pleased that the team didn’t rest on its laurels after stealing two points in Detroit.
“It’s a good thing when the team recognizes that there are things you need to improve on,” Carlyle said. “They’ve been saying the right things, and now you have to live it. The most important thing is that we want to be honest with ourselves, and we want to be committed to growing our team.
You don’t grow unless you can accept that you do have faults. We all do, and they were willing to work on them to make them better.”
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