For one strange night, the signs of progress for the Toronto Maple Leafs were impossible to miss.
There was Luke Schenn
going end to end for a goal and Nazem Kadri
scoring for the first time in his NHL career. There were offensive contributions from grinders and, perhaps most importantly, another solid effort from rookie goaltender James Reimer
It all added up to a comfortable 5-2 victory over the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
``Good teams, they get contributions all the way up and down the lineup,'' said Leafs forward Joey Crabb
, who had a career night with a goal and two assists.
Toronto isn't yet a good team, at least not on a consistent enough basis. But the victory lifted the Leafs to 74 points - good enough to match their total from a year ago with nine games still to play in the regular season.
For all of the ups and downs, this season has clearly been a step forward from that disastrous campaign.
At least the players still have a chance to harbour thoughts of an unlikely playoff run, although time is quickly running out on that dream. The Maple Leafs remain four points back of eighth-place Buffalo and have played two more games than the Sabres.
``It's not over until it's over,'' said Reimer, who finished with 35 saves against Boston. ``We've just got to keep winning, keep taking care of our business. ... All we can do is play our best and hope it's good enough.''
An unusual night at Air Canada Centre saw all of Toronto's offence come from players with less than five goals on the season. In fact, the team's scorers have combined for just 13 goals all year.
Schenn scored his fourth, Mike Brown
and Crabb got their third, Keith Aulie had his second and Kadri scored his first for the Maple Leafs (32-31-10).
``The third and fourth lines were really good tonight,'' said coach Ron Wilson. ``The (Mikhail) Grabovski and (Tyler) Bozak lines kind of struggled at times and those guys were on their game.''
Adam McQuaid and Dan Paille replied for Boston (39-22-10), which fell to 1-3-3 in its past seven games.
It was the first trip back to Toronto for Tomas Kaberle since being dealt on Feb. 18. He played the first 878 games of his NHL career with the Maple Leafs - leaving him eighth on the franchise's all-time list - and admitted prior to the game he was experiencing ``mixed feelings'' about his return.
A video tribute during the first period earned Kaberle a standing ovation and he acknowledged the fans with a couple waves. Otherwise, it was a night for the veteran defenceman to forget.
``I never thought it was going to be this tough,'' said Kaberle. ``Not only on the ice, but you've got a lot of friends watching. A lot of things run through your head. I'm kind of glad it's over.''
The first sign a weird game was ahead came when Schenn opened the scoring at 9:44 of the first period. With Bobby Orr watching from a private box, the stay-at-home defenceman went end to end and beat Tim Thomas with a high wrist shot.
``I don't expect to score too many more like that,'' said Schenn.
Less than a minute after McQuaid tied the score, Kadri floated a long wrist shot that banked off the Bruins defenceman and eluded Thomas. The play was reviewed by video and the 20-year-old Kadri wasn't sure if he'd even be given credit for the goal until it was announced in the arena.
He expects the story to change over time.
``I'll probably say I walked (around) a few guys and went backhand shelf,'' said Kadri. ``That's not the case.''
Toronto blew the game open in the second period shortly after Reimer denied Tyler Seguin on a clear breakaway to keep his team ahead. The Leafs goaltender was extremely sharp two days after being given the night off for Toronto's 4-0 loss in Florida.
``The Bruins, you look at their lineup and you're going 'Holy cow there's no holes here,''' said Wilson. ``Any one of their lines is capable of being dangerous. James made three or four great saves.
``The big save was the breakaway in the second period.''
Crabb and Brown followed that with goals 39 seconds apart to chase Thomas and Aulie made it 5-1 before the end of the period with a wrist shot that got behind Tuukka Rask.
It afforded Toronto the rare opportunity to enjoy a relaxing third period. The last time the Leafs won by more than two goals was Feb. 3.
``I think any time a third or fourth line gets goals it's a bonus,'' said Crabb. ``It's not every night we're going to do that, but when we do it's a huge plus.'' Notes:
The Bruins are 7-3-3 since acquiring Kaberle ... Kadri's first goal came in the 21st game of his NHL career ... Leafs tough guy Colton Orr skated on Saturday morning. He hasn't played since suffering a concussion in a fight on Jan. 20 ... Announced attendance was 19,512.