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Perseverance Pays Off

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

Sometimes all it takes is one bad break for everything to go south.

In unhappier times for the Leafs, perhaps that’s all that would be needed for the team to let a game get away.

And up 2-0 on the defending Stanley Cup champions on Sunday, Toronto was dealt some bad luck.

A flip clearance of the puck from Los Angeles’ Kyle Clifford made it to the Leafs' end of the ice. Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner made contact with a high stick, but when he made additional contact with the puck, play resumed. Seconds later, Justin Williams was gifted a goal in close to beat James Reimer.

Shortly after, Dwight King tied the game for Los Angeles, after an innocent-looking shot beat Reimer.

Early in the third period, Marian Gaborik scored to give the Kings their first lead of the game.

After three goals in the span of five minutes, it didn't look promising. But the Leafs managed to regain control.

“Stuff happens throughout the course of a game, bad breaks, mistakes,” said Leafs defenceman Stephane Robidas. “You can’t dwell on it. You just have to move forward and I think we did a good job.”

James van Riemsdyk tied the game at 3-3, with a goal on the man advantage. It was the Leafs' eighth power-play goal in their last eight games.

Joffrey Lupul’s lone tally in the shootout ensured a 4-3 victory.

A character win, in one of its truest forms.

“I think this is probably the best our team has been playing throughout a full 60 minutes,” said Nazem Kadri. “These aren’t easy games to come out and play, especially off back-to-backs. Just a quick turnaround and us being able to dig deep and really giving our fans something to cheer about.”

The Leafs are now riding season-high five-game winning streak, and the last two games have seen a more complete effort.

Balanced scoring continues to be key.

Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson had the other goals for Toronto.

Santorelli celebrated his 29th birthday on Sunday. He sits fourth in points on the team with 22 after picking up an assist to go along with his game-opening goal, which also allowed the Leafs to improve to 13-0-0 when drawing first blood.

There is a lot of reason for optimism.

During the current winning streak, the Leafs have beaten the class of the NHL. Their opponents' combined record at puck drop was 84-38-20.

The Leafs are also nine games above .500 (18-9-3) at their fastest pace since the 2003-04 season when they managed to get to that mark in 28 games.

Still, it wasn’t too long ago when things looked grim. And there are lots of areas where this team can improve.

“I always try to temper the enthusiasm and try to remain level-headed and hopefully that builds confidence in our group inside,” said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. “We think this group has got more to give. We still have some areas in which we definitely need to clean up and work on and we’re going to continue to be a work in progress, because every team is.”

James Reimer collected another win in goal, making it back-to-back shootout victories. What used to be a struggling point for the Manitoba native turned into a strength, having won seven of his last eight shootouts. Prior to that stretch, Reimer had a career 2-8 record in the shootout.

The next test is Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks, another team with an impressive record.

NOTES: The Maple Leafs improved to 9-0-0 when Daniel Winnik registers a point. James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel each extended their point streaks to four games with a goal and assist, respectively. After a drought on the score sheet, Nazem Kadri has hit his stride with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in his last nine games. Korbinian Holzer has three assists in his last two games. It marks the first time he has registered points in consecutive games.

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