Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday at Air Canada Centre:
Carrick’s first goal as a Leaf brings out an emotional reaction.
Leafs defenseman Connor Carrick scored the game’s first goal – and the first of his career in Toronto – at the 13:34 mark of the second period, bringing a huge smile to the 21-year-old’s face. With 45 games of NHL experience heading into Tuesday’s action, Carrick is actually one of the most experienced members on the young Buds defence corps, but the goal was just the second of his career at the NHL level, and it was just his ninth point.
“It was really exciting,” said Carrick, whose first NHL goal came with the Washington Capitals on Oct. 3, 2013. “My first NHL goal was a long time ago, and wasn’t necessarily a hockey goal – a lot of luck involved. This one was pretty lucky too, but it was more of a hockey play, and it just felt really good.”
Carrick’s ice time has fluctuated greatly since he was acquired from the Caps Feb. 28 in the trade that sent Daniel Winnik the other way – he logged a career-best 21:36 against the Islanders March 9, and 11:01 against the Red Wings March 13 – but he continues to make a good case for himself as a member of next season’s Leafs squad.
Bernier’s hot streak continues.
After turning aside 38 shots in a 1-0 shutout of Detroit on Sunday, netminder Jonathan Bernier held the high-octane Bolts off the scoresheet until the 6:33 mark of the third period, when forward Brian Boyle tied the game with his 11th marker of the season.
Bernier’s confidence has taken a few blows as the season has played out, but he’s on a roll at the moment, and he’s giving the Buds a chance to win against playoff-calibre opponents. That perseverance – and his quiet leadership-by-example isn’t going unnoticed.
“I’m not a big talker in the room, but I try to lead by example and do my thing,” said Bernier, who stopped 20 of 21 Bolts shots to record his ninth win of the year. “I thought we played a very sound game, and we panicked a little bit in the third, but we were able to get that big second goal there.”
Smith’s first goal as a Leaf proves to be the game-winner – and the first point as a Leaf for Michalek.
Less than three minutes after Boyle’s goal, the Leafs regained the lead on forward Ben Smith’s first NHL goal of the season and his first with Toronto, who acquired him from the Sharks Feb. 27 as part of the return for goalie James Reimer.
Smith’s goal turned out to be the difference-maker in the game, and it also gave winger Milan Michalek – who became a Leaf in the Dion Phaneuf trade with Ottawa – his first point with Toronto. Slowly but surely, all the new faces are finding ways to contribute, and Smith is happy that head coach Mike Babcock values work ethic in his players.
“You have to work – no matter where you are, with the puck, without the puck, you have to work,” Smith – who also finished with an assist and was named the game’s first star – said of playing for Babcock. “I love that as a player, because that’s one of the things I want to bring everyday is my work ethic.”
Emotions ran strong in an increasingly chippy game.
The Bolts and Buds are divisional rivals, so you always expect the teams to be competitive, but the longer this contest went on, the more physical it got: Lightning captain Steven Stamkos got into a skirmish in the third period, and winger Ryan Callahan got into it with veteran P-A Parenteau late in the game, which the Leafs put out of hand after two empty net goals from Zach Hyman and Parenteau.
“(The game against) Detroit was the same way,” Carrick said of the intense atmosphere at the ACC. “These teams that we’re playing are charged up, and we’ve got a lot of young guys chomping at the bit to get a piece of somebody. That’s fun. That’s the way you want to play.”
The two teams play again in Tampa Bay March 28, and fans can expect at least as spirited an affair as they saw Tuesday.
All in all, lots to like for Leafs fans of late.
Toronto is now on a two-game win streak, with both victories coming over teams jostling for playoff position. Leafs management isn’t going to be fooled into judging the current team members just on this final stretch of the season, but Babcock was pleased with a number of elements he saw in Tuesday’s win.
“Guys (are) playing hard (and) doing a good job, (and) Bernie’s been better these last couple games,” Babcock said. “The guys didn’t give up much through two periods. There wasn’t a lot of room out there. I thought we got a little off-kilter – kind of like we did in Detroit the other night – when they scored for a while, and I thought we settled down obviously after the goal. (And the) penalty kill’s been good. Bringing Hyman here and Smith and (Brooks) Laich has helped our penalty kill for sure.”