(James Reimer made 31 saves in win)
Mar. 23: Leafs 3 vs. Bruins 2
Forward lines: van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Kessel, Hamilton-Grabovski-Frattin, MacArthur-Kadri-Kulemin, McLaren-McClement-Orr
Defence pairings: Phaneuf-Gunnarsson, Gardiner-Liles, Franson-Fraser
Goaltenders: Reimer (Win, 59:57 minutes played, 31 saves, 2 GA), Scrivens (0:00)
The Leafs decided that eight is enough.
As in 8 consecutive losses at the hands of the Boston Bruins before ending that skid with a gritty 3-2 win over the team that had dominated them since after March 31, 2011, the day of what had been the most recent Toronto victory in head-to-head play.
And apparently 13 was merely “sufficient”.
As in 13 shots on goal directed towards the Bruins tandem of Anton Khudobin and Tuukka Rask, the former being pulled after surrendering the eventual game-winner to an unlikely hero, Leafs pugilist Frazer McLaren.
With the season-low baker’s dozen total of shots that Toronto forced the goalie to make a save, coach Randy Carlyle was quick to point out that the output wasn’t how he drew it up on the board. “When you win a hockey game with only 13 shots, I don’t think you can really say that was your game plan,” he said.
The game’s difference maker was goaltender James Reimer, who made 31 saves, stopping a desperate Bruins flurry in the last minute of the third period with the Leafs clinging to a 3-2 lead and Rask on the bench for a sixth Boston skater.
“When we lost 1-0 (on Feb. 2) it just happened not to go our way,” said Reimer comparing the Saturday match to the last time he faced the Bruins six weeks ago. “(That) was a good honest game by both teams, and tonight it was the same thing; both teams worked hard.”
On a night when Leafs legend Mats Sundin was belatedly honoured for his Novemeber induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame – the lockout postponing the acknowledgment – another former #13 Nazem Kadri, now the team’s #43, extended his scoring streak to four games (3 goals, 6 assists) by collecting his fourteenth goal of the year to open the scoring.
“I think it’s a measuring stick for ourselves,” said Kadri, happy that the Leafs were able to exorcise Beantown curse that plagued them for nearly two years. “We were getting pretty sick of the storyline and I’m glad we changed that tonight.”
Mikhail Grabovski scored for the second consecutive game after having gone the previous ten games without finding the net.
Toronto lost defenceman John-Michael Liles who suffered a lower-body injury in the second period. Carlyle said X-rays were negative, but would not put a timetable on his return.
With the Leafs now five points in the clear of a playoff spot, this victory – albeit ugly – may be the psychological statement game that seals the first post-season appearance since 2004.
The first test comes no later than Monday night when the two teams play the rematch at TD Garden. “Anytime you can win the first one, that’s big,” said Reimer. “It’s almost like a two-game mini-playoff series. Now we know we can beat them. We were confident before, but there’s no sense in getting too high over one win.”
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