There’s worse ways to lose

Tyler Bozak

I took in what felt like a one-point win last night at the ACC. I of little faith was thinking “blow out” after the bang-bang goals in the first, but there seems to be something different about this team (visible in the Bruins game as well). They didn’t slip silently into the night, and by the end of it you had the feeling Crosby, Malkin and co. snuck away, or limped away, with the extra point.

I’ll ignore the awful first period from the Leafs – and how deeply underwater the first line was in its head to head with Crosby’s line, or how off Reimer was for the first 20 – because in many ways the fight back was just that good. Reimer played one of his poorer periods of the season in period 1, but his overall performance matched the trajectory of the rest of the team – started slow, but without him the Leafs don’t get the point.

Some of my quick thoughts from the evening:

– The JvR hit on Malkin shook the building, both the fan reaction and hit itself. JvR got dirtied out front, taking a cross check to the face in front of the net that went uncalled, and sought his own justice on the Pens’ all-world player. Amazing.

– Sydney Crosby was quietly dirty all night. He slew footed Reimer behind the net and was otherwise chipping all evening. The hip check from Franson that sent him cart wheeling, helmet jarred, was another epic moment in an amazing third period of hockey from the Leafs.

– The Carl Gunnarsson blocked shot on the Malkin slap shot – it looked so bad the Leaf trainer was over the boards before the ref blew the whistle – was another example of the team toughness the Leafs showed in that third period.

– Dion Phaneuf was taking every chance to hit Crosby, and it’s something I’ve come to appreciate about Dion when he plays against the best of the best. He takes his physical game to another level to try to slow these guys down. It often shows by game’s end and he looked positively exhausted in OT. His inability to find the legs to go pick up a floating puck 4 feet away in his own zone, nearly resulting in an overtime loss instead of a shootout loss, almost strapped the goathorns on Dion despite a great game. It’s not news to anybody that he needs more support back there.

– Speaking of which, that was Cody Franson’s best game as a Leaf, and not just on account of his usual powerplay prowess. He finally joined Dion in the place of Holzer and helped to calm things down for that pairing. He’s damn good at using his reach to jostle pucks loose and is thriving in the post-Wilson, post-two-hands-glued-to-the-stick era. I’d like to see the experiment with this pairing continue.

– It isn’t all McClement’s doing, but this guy gets some serious love from me for helping turn the PK around. He pressures aggressively and smartly, breaks up the opposition’s flow, and is the main communicator and organizer out there on the PK.

– The special teams were big. The PP kept us in it and the PK sustained the comeback by preventing the gap from growing.

– Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur were the Leafs‘ two best forwards. Kessel found another gear in the third.

– It’s nice to still be generally happy with the team’s performance even after dropping three of four points to the Bruins and Penguins. The way they came through a week against the Devils, Sens, Pens and Bruins (2-1-1) is promising after the team mostly beat up on inferior opponents and lost the tough games last season.

After all this excitement, I came home to a nice present in the form of this tweet from Nazem Kadri. If anyone reading this is behind it, as in you put Kadri up to it, please reveal the backstory in the comments. We owe you many beers and much thanks.