As has been the case many times following bad games, a win can allow for cooler heads to prevail.
The Maple Leafs did that with a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Air Canada Centre. It started off on the right foot.
“We scored early in the hockey game to give us more of a feel good story,” said Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle. “We were a lot more engaged in the game, we played a lot more to the structure that’s required, and we seemed a lot more relaxed.”
It was the Leafs 20th game of the season and scoring the opening goal hasn’t been something Toronto have done often. David Clarkson opened the scoring at the 1:29 mark of the opening period. This beat the previous mark set by Phil Kessel in the Leafs last victory, a 6-1 win over Boston, when he scored at the 6:46 mark.
The Leafs improved to 7-0-0 when they draw first blood. Only the Montreal Canadiens have been able to match their perfect record in that department.
With all the external pressures facing the Leafs in the past two games, the win gives the group a much needed breather.
Their ability to hang onto a third period was put to the test, when Tampa pulled goaltender Ben Bishop with five minutes to go. The Lightning managed to cut the lead down to two goals. An empty net goal by Roman Polak with eight seconds left, assured the Maple Leafs a snapping of their three-game losing streak.
“I think it’s a sign of growth from our group,” said Cody Franson who extended his career best point streak to nine games with an assist. “We talked a bit as a group before going into the third period that these are the areas we have to continually to improve upon, and we have to learn to be a better team with the lead, and keep applying pressure, and not sit back and continually receive the third period.”
Steven Stamkos wasn’t much of a factor for Tampa tonight. Tyler Bozak had a large part in neutralizing the Markham, Ontario native. When Bozak’s line wasn’t winning the battles to the puck, they were starting with it. Bozak won 22 of his 30 faceoffs.
“Bozie was dynamite in the faceoff circle,” lauded Carlyle. “When you can match up against players like Stamkos, if they don’t start with the puck, it’s an advantage for you, it’s as simple as that.”
Bozak had two assists in the game, allowing him to reach 200 career NHL points.
It boils down to playing within the system, something the Leafs never quit on despite the criticism they were facing over their last couple of games.
“When you’re playing smart you can work smarter too” said James van Reimsdyk, who had his first multi-goal game of the season with two tallies. “We’ve talked about working harder but it comes down to playing smarter, when you know you’re going to play smart it makes the game a lot easier.”
All the problems the Leafs had going into this game were not a factor Thursday night. They didn’t leave the third man high. They didn’t have a high amount of turnovers. They simply stuck to what has worked, which is what gives the Leafs solace that they know they can compete with any team on any given night.
“Tonight we played our system, we played like we were supposed to and we got a good result. You’re not going to win every game. But if you play the way you’re supposed to you have a chance to win, the previous game we were beating ourselves,” said Stephane Robidas.
Notes: This was Richard Panik’s first game against the team that waived him back on October 8th. He scored a goal that gave the Leafs a lead they would never give up. Dion Phaneuf played in his 700th career game. Jonathan Bernier improved 3-0-0 all-time against Tampa. He has a goals against average of 1.67 and save percentage of .952 in that span. The Leafs snapped a season high three game losing streak. They also snapped a three-game power-play goal drought with van Riemsdyk’s second goal of the game.