Phaneuf’s OT winner ends Leafs home season
Forward lines:: Frattin-Bozak-Kessel, MacArthur-Lombardi-Ashton, Crabb-Connolly-Steckel, Rosehill-Armstrong-Brown
Defence pairings: Phaneuf-Komisarek, Gardiner-Franson, Liles-Schenn
Goaltenders: Scrivens (Win, 64:01 minutes played, 35 saves 2 GA) Gustavsson (0:00)
The Leafs didn’t completely contain Steven Stamkos. But they stoppped the Markham, Ontario native from celebrating a milestone at Air Canada Centre.
For much of the last half of the third period of Thursday night’s visit from the Tampa Bay Lightning it appeared that Stamkos’ 59th goal would hold up as the game-winner. The stage was set for the soon-to-be Rocket Richard Trophy winner to become the first NHL player to reach the sixty-goal plateau since Washington’s Alex Ovechkin accomplished the feat with a 65-goal campaign four years ago.
With the graduate of the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Markham Waxers having registered 18 points in fifteen previous games against Toronto, Stamkos had the odds in his favour.
However Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner tied the game with just under three minutes left in regulation. After carrying the puck on an end-to-end rush, Gardiner was rewarded with a lucky goal that accidentally bounced off Lightning forward Brett Connolly for the equalizer.
The winning goal was scored after Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel orchestrated a give-and-go, with Kessel shooting wide to the left of the Tampa Bay goal. The puck took a hard bounce off the end boards right to Phaneuf’s stick, with the captain having an easy tally past helpless Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson.
In Toronto’s 81st game of the year and final contest at home, it was the first game-winning goal of the season from a Leafs defenceman.
Goaltender Ben Scrivens earned the victory making 35 saves. “I just didn’t want to give up (Stamkos goal number) 60 and be on the highlights all summer!” said Scrivens. “He’s a good player, he’s got a great release. I think I got lucky to get a shoulder (on a shot), and got my ribs on a couple. There’s a reason he’s got 59 – I’m just happy 60 wasn’t against me.”
Stamkos finished the game with a team-high 8 shots on goal, and has one more chance to reach the sixty-goal mark on Saturday when the Lightning visit Winnipeg. “We knew coming into the game that they were going to try to move the puck to him as much as possible,” said Phaneuf. “He’s had an unbelievable year and he can score goals from anywhere. That’s what makes him so dangerous.”
Phaneuf and Stamkos were among the NHL.com game stars, with Gardiner also earning honours. In addition to getting the game-tying goal, Gardiner led a first-period rush that ended with a pass to Tim Connolly for the Leafs’ first goal. “I’m really happy,” said the Leafs rookie defenceman assessing his play in his freshman year. “Our team didn’t have success, but personally I had a decent year. No one’s happy about the way we’ve played, so we’re just trying to finish strong here.”
Thus ends another year of mediocrity within what has become the not-so-friendly confines of Air Canada Centre. With a record of 18-16-7 in 41 outings, Toronto has failed to win at least 20 games at home for a fifth straight season.
A forgettable, regrettable 2011-12 for the Leafs ends Saturday in Montreal.