It is evident in most every shift how far the Maple Leafs have come from there to here.
There was rough. This is starting to look awfully good.
The Leafs beat the Colorado Avalanche Thursday in Denver by a 4-3 count. The club has won three in a row and two thirds of a road trip that began with a win in Minnesota and now culminates in a date with the 43-22-9 Red Wings on Saturday.
The Maple Leafs have earned 35 points since the all-star break, third-best in the league.
The Leafs win narrowed the lead enjoyed by the eighth-place Sabres to three points although the Sabres enjoy two games in hand. In that period, the Leafs have carved the deficit down from 14 points.
The Leafs have one more crack at the Sabres, Tuesday in Toronto and there will be few buildings left to raze should the Leafs come back to Toronto with three road wins tucked into their the bands of their fedoras.
The night belonged to the usual suspects, mostly goalie James Reimer
, the line of Nikolai Kulemin
-Clarke MacArthur-Mikhaill Grabovski, Tyler Bozak
and Luke Schenn
in a game that saw the Leafs dominate in the first period, wobble in the second and then win with a Phil Kessel
tip-in in the third.
“The type of team we are we are going to have breakdowns every once in a while but Reims made some big saves,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson.
True enough, but mostly you noticed a profound talent gap. The Leafs were better, profoundly better than the Avs. Their number one unit of Dion Phaneuf
and Keith Aulie handled most of the tough moments. In sequence after sequence, Carl Gunnarsson
does the right thing and Schenn’s obvious comfort with his partner and his own game is at times astonishing.
The Leafs surrendered the game’s first marker when Reimer kicked a shot away only to see it hit Phaneuf and fall into the net. The goal was credited to Daniel Winnik.
Didn’t much matter. Grabovski overpowered the Avs defence and while Brian Elliott could stop Grabovski, the puck went to Kulemin who scored his 27th. With five seconds left in the first, Kulemin would score thanks to a nice piece of work from linemate MacArthur who shook the puck out of the net so Kulemin could bank the puck off Elliott. The line was ferocious all night and banked five points.
After outshooting the home side 9-3, things wobbled a bit for the Leafs in the middle. Schenn, as mentioned terrific on the night, found Tyler Bozak
with a terrific slap/pass to restore the two-goal lead. It was Bozak’s 13th goal and his fourth point in the last five games.
Ryan O’Reilly scored to bring the Avs back to within one but a power play back-door tap-in by Phil Kessel
in the third restored the one-goal lead with only his second goal in the last 11 games. Matt Duchene’s goal midway through the period put the suspense back into the game.
There were, of course imperfections. Schenn lost his way on the O’Reilly goal after the Leafs lost the draw. The Avs first goal started with Nazem Kadri
easing up along the boards in the Avalanche end and allowing the puck to be advanced into the Leafs’ end.
The Leafs needed every bit of Reimer in the final minute after a torrid attack by the young Avs but how many months have passed since the Leafs were the team frantically piecing together a rally that fell just short.
“He makes those huge timely saves,” Schenn said of Reimer. “Sometimes you give up odd man rushes and he bails you out. Give credit to him.”
It seems there will be plenty more to give.