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Leafs pull out close win over Flames

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

The pressure from the opposition is becoming tighter. The games aren’t getting easier to win. Still, the Leafs managed to knock off another top Western Conference opponent. And they have their goaltender to thank, yet again.

On Saturday night, the Maple Leafs beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-2. Despite scoring the first four goals, the game was a lot closer than it would appear, with Vancouver firing 91 shots toward the Leafs net.

On Tuesday night, not quite as many (77 toward the net to be exact). But, the Leafs blocked 29 shots, eclipsing the previous season high by five, set on Saturday night.

On both nights, when the puck managed to find the net, Jonathan Bernier has shut door. He’s found his groove, and he exhibited that several times with some show-stopping saves.

The Maple Leafs improved to 12-0-0 when they score the first goal of the game. That proverbial drawing of first blood was seconds away from going to the opposition.

12 seconds before Peter Holland opened the scoring in the first period, Calgary’s Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau had scoring chances on a partial breakaway and rebound respectively. Bernier shut the door on both players.

Momentum carried the Leafs over, and they are clearly feeding off the performance of their netminder.

“He’s making a couple of cross-crease saves every game that we’re on the bench going ‘holy jumpin’ holy jumpin’ how’s he doing this?’” said Holland. “That’s huge for us, it’s helping us win hockey games and he’s just doing what he’s capable of doing.”

The second period of the game saw a tighter-checking Maple Leafs dominate the pace.

James van Riemsdyk’s power play tally was the only goal scored in the middle frame, giving the Leafs an NHL leading 40th in period number two.

“It’s probably one of the best periods we played this year,” said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. “From a prospective of playing more of a style of hockey that’s required for 60 minutes. Those are things you try and capture and present.”

The Leafs fired 24 pucks in Calgary’s end of the ice, compared to just 15 from the Flames.

Markus Granlund made things interesting, potting in the only Calgary goal early in the third period. The Flames applied continuous pressure but Toronto stood their ground. The night was Bernier’s once again, as his confidence level continues to rise, and it has every bit to do with the players in front of him, in addition to himself.

“I think we have a pretty good chemistry with my D as well so that’s really good,” said Bernier. “When they dump pucks, little details like that where I know where my D are in the corner, it definitely helps.”

While the two empty net Toronto goals by Phil Kessel and Mike Santorelli inflate the scorecard in the end, it’s important to note that this was the first time in quite a while we saw the Leafs hold a slim lead going into the third period and hang on to it. A majority of their wins have come through high scoring early assaults with lots of goals, putting the game virtually out of reach.

Tonight they won the tight-checking close game, handing the Flames their first regulation loss after a loss this season.

Notes: Joffrey Lupul extended his point streak to five games after collecting an assist … he has amassed four goals and four assist for eight points during his current streak. The Leafs improved to 12-0-0 this season when leading after two periods and 10-0-0 when James van Riemsdyk scores a goal.

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