The games are getting tougher and tougher to win. Such is the case when you’re in the midst of a season-high eight-game losing streak.
In their first home game in nearly ten days, the Maple Leafs got off to the start they wanted. They scored the first goal, they were firing shots toward the opposition. An opening tally from Phil Kessel (his first goal since January 9th) and everything was going their way.
But five seconds into the third period, the Leafs’ bad luck took on a new level.
Before you can process the fact that the puck had dropped, an OIiver Ekman-Larsson shot from the Arizona blue line got the better of Jonathan Bernier, tying things up at one. A feeling of shock was felt given the nature of the goal, but the toll takes on a greater magnitude when luck isn’t on your side.
“It throws (you) off mentally,” said Bernier. “It's tough to stay in, especially when I thought I was playing pretty good and the fans get on you. It gets frustrating, but I've got to be stronger mentally and stay in it.”
The Coyotes scored moments later on another tough shot and a power-play goal later in the frame sealed the win for Arizona, their first in eight games.
While it’s easy to point the finger, the skaters looked at themselves.
“Those happen to every goalie in this league,” said Kessel. “He played real good tonight so it’s not his fault at all. You know, he made some great saves in there, two bad bounces, what can you do? It’s just how it’s going.”
Bernier made 42 saves, marking the first time he’s made 40-plus stops this season and ended up losing. He was 3-0-0 previous to tonight.
The team deserved better. And yes, you can say that about a majority of the last eight games.
This was the first opportunity for Joffrey Lupul to suit up after missing 11 games due to a lower-body injury, and the tension of the losing streak hasn’t been lost on him.
“Our team game looks better, but individually we’re struggling to make the big play at critical times. We’re doing some things right, but you got to score goals.”
Lupul played 10:30, and that is bound to increase with each game going forward.
While the highlight reels are bound to focus on the long-range shot by Arizona, it’s the lack of scoring that has done the Leafs in.
“That next goal was huge,” said Leafs interim coach Peter Horachek. “But even when they scored (and) even when they scored their second one, we had some great chances to tie it back up again.”
With the Leafs set to leave for Philly on Friday, the team will be pondering how to strengthen their mental game.
“We've got to find ways to get things done, find ways to keep that 1-0 and find ways not to let the second goal happen and tie those things back up,” added Horachek. “We've got to be more resilient. ... We're finding ways not to win. We've got to find ways to win now.”
NOTES: Phil Kessel’s goal was his 20th of the season, making it seven straight seasons of 20 goals or more. That includes his 20 goals in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Bernier’s loss against the Coyotes was the first of his career.