More offensive zone time and solid goaltending propelled the Maple Leafs to their third consecutive victory Saturday night.
It wasn’t the template to a complete 60 minutes that was in place over the last two games. But with respect to the Buffalo Sabres and the Columbus Blue Jackets, this was an elite team with plenty of ammunition.
In the end, it came down to winning a way the Leafs were actually used to in the past: Highlight-reel goaltending from James Reimer to lift Toronto when it is most in need.
After 40 minutes, the game was fairly even. The shots were split virtually down the middle with Chicago holding a slight 21-20 edge. But a combination of Toronto’s fatigue from a back-to-back nights and Chicago’s high-octane offence kicking into full gear commenced an all-out assault on the Leafs' net.
Reimer was at his best, making 27 saves in the final 20 minutes of play, which was one fewer save than Jonathan Bernier made in Friday’s 4-1 win over Columbus.
“Obviously in a back-to-back you run out of steam a little bit in the third,” Reimer said. “Just one of those games where we all have to grind it out and were fortunate to get the two points.”
“In reality, he was number one star, simple as that,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said about Reimer’s performance.
Carlyle has always preached that he expects their goaltenders to put them in a position for his team to succeed. This was beyond the call of duty, but the offence chipped in during third period when it mattered most.
Reimer's 45 saves on the night was his 10th career victory in games where he has had to perform 40 or more saves. And that doesn’t include a 43-save victory he had in the 2013 playoffs against the Boston Bruins.
In a lot of ways, it was winning they are used to. You need it from time-to-time and Reimer has come through during those moments.
An injury to Joffrey Lupul meant Peter Holland was promoted to the third line. The extra ice-time paid off as he found himself in point-blank range on a behind-the-net pass from Leo Komarov for what was his first career game-winning goal as a Leaf.
“Anytime you move up the lineup and you take on a bigger role it’s definitely an opportunity and something I was trying to focus on,” Holland said after skating to a season high 15:50 ice-time.
Komarov grabbed his seventh assist of the season on the winning tally.
Holland isn’t someone you would call a prolific goal scorer. The game-winning marker was the 11th in his career. Stunningly, four of them have now come against Chicago.
“It’s actually funny that thought crossed my mind after the game,” said Holland with a chuckle. “I’m not really sure I seem to be a bit of Blackhawks killer. I just try to elevate my game against good teams.
With Lupul out for three weeks with a fracture in his hand, Holland is expected to continue to fill the third line centre role.
JVR > TVR
It was the first time James van Riemsdyk played against his brother Trevor. With their family on hand, James got the upper hand with his fifth goal of the season (and the 100th of his NHL), which came just over a minute after Chicago had their first and only lead of the hockey game.
“You think you know what it’s going feel like when you get out there and play against him in a game but it definitely hits you how cool it is,” said van Riemsdyk on the sibling battle. “It was definitely a hard-fought game.”
Carrick Fit In
It was a big night for Sam Carrick, who made his NHL debut. Limited to 4:15, he made the most of it, delivering a big hit on Chicago’s Brad Richards, while drawing a penalty on his very first NHL shift.