Unlikely heroes, increased pressure and quality goaltending. All were ingredients evenly mixed in to the Leafs' latest victory over the Wings.
It’s a season-high four game winning streak, but this one felt much different than the last three victories. The wins prior to tonight didn’t have that feel of a complete 60 minute effort.
Tonight was different.
It was the Leafs who outshot their opposition 41-28, compared to the 42-19 shot tally in favour of Detroit on Wednesday.
The second period was dominant once again for the Maple Leafs. It was in the middle frame that Toronto scored the game-winner and their NHL-leading 41st second period goal of the season. It came from Richard Panik, who continues to do a lot with the ice time that is afforded to him.
Panik played just 8:47, but managed to score a goal. He also got into his first ever NHL fight with Detroit defenceman Brendan Smith. All that was missing was an assist to complete the
Gordie Howe hat trick, but being able to contribute left Panik feeling quite contented.
“I’m just trying my best with every shift,” said Panik. “It doesn’t matter if I play five minutes, I’m just focusing on the next shift. Now, it’s going in the net so I’m really happy and glad about it and hopefully it will just keep going this way.”
The goal helped Panik set a new career high with six in 26 games this season. He has managed to score goals while averaging just north of 8.5 minutes a game.
He’s certainly making the case to get more of an opportunity with his timely game-winner.
“He finds ways to provide that offence” said Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle. “Because he’s in this situation right now, doesn’t mean he’s going to stay there. At any given time in the game, you could feel comfortable that you could move that player up if things aren’t going to way you like. He’s an interchangeable part and he’s a dangerous player to play in the situation he’s playing.”
Panik’s contribution to the fourth line speaks to the overall depth the Leafs have on their roster. Players that have been on the roster longer than Panik, are taking notice.
“You always try to have that but it seems like in years past maybe that third or fourth line wasn’t getting as many minutes as they are now,” said Nazem Kadri. “We’re a fast group, that’s our identity. We can skate, we can score, so we have to use that as much as possible.”
Panik has shown precision in his shot. His shooting percentage is at 27.3%, which is the highest among players who have taken 20 shots on goal or more this season.
The Leafs continue to roll, riding a season high four-game win streak. As long as Panik continues to contribute at this rate, he’ll be knocking loudly for more ice time.
Not tested nearly as much as he was in his last couple of starts, Jonathan Bernier made 27 saves for the win and took notice of the play in front of him.
“I thought tonight was one of our best games of the year,” said Bernier. “Our effort was good and we were always on top of them in the neutral zone. I think that was our problem a little bit in that last game we played them there. But tonight we made the adjustment.”
The Leafs' goaltending is as hot as it has been in recent memory.
Not since Feb. 5th to Feb. 11th of 2013 have the Leafs have limited their opposition to two goals or less in four consecutive games.
For all the success the Leafs have had scoring goals, their ability to limit them over the recent stretch is promising.
But now comes the biggest test yet against one of the best teams that exhibit work ethic and battling for the puck – the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.
“We’ll get ourselves ready for a much different game, I would suspect, than what we saw tonight.”
The Maple Leafs improved to 12-0-0 this season when holding a lead after two periods of play. During the current win streak, the Leafs have beaten teams that have a combined record of 69-28-15 going into those games.