Game in 10: Game #40, Leafs 4 vs. Sabres 3 (SO)

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 27: Zemgus Gergensons #28 of the Buffalo Sabres softens the landing for Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 27, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Better than one point or zero, but all we can do is exhale and move on after this one. This was way too much of an adventure for a must win game against Buffalo. Still with just 1 regulation win in the last 19, this was the fourth straight Leafs game decided in a shootout. The Leafs led in the third period in three of them.

1 – In a nondescript first few minutes, the Leafs took 6 of the first eight shots. Not a great first 5 or so minutes, but not a horrible start, either.

2 – The keystone cops routine by the Maple Leafs was underway come the 7 mark. The Sabres had a total of 9 first period goals coming into this game, and had never scored two in the first period through 40 games. The gratuitous hosts had the honours of putting an end to that streak of offensive ineptitude.

The first Sabre goal started with a ring around the boards by Holland, which wasn’t met by a Leaf winger – a theme all season, and it happened a couple of times to start this game. Girgensons drove out front, got taken down by Holland, and threw it on net; Moulson jammed at it and it went in off Phaneuf.

3 – Now, that John Scott goal, the second of his career, may have looked bad, but consider this angle – Scott played 12:39 because of that goal. This is relevant later on in our game story.

(Seriously, that was the most embarrassed I’ve been as a fan since the Game 7 collapse).

4 – Right after that doozy (100% on Bernier), Morgan Rielly skated into the ref and nearly gave up a breakaway. The Leafs scrambled like headless chickens as the Sabres hit the post and nearly made it a third. I think Paul Maurice nailed it at the intermission – their heads must have been racing at a mile a minute, but all we could see was a team that was completely stunned and not moving their feet.

5 – The second period finally brought some urgency as the top line, who the onus was on to get this team going, came to life with a couple of relentless shifts in the middle of the second period. After a period of sustained pressure, Gardiner ripped a pass from Kessel that nearly blew a hole in the mesh. It was like the collective frustration of all of Leafs Nation was channeled into a single swing of the blade.

6 – After a really dumb play by the Sabre defender in the corner, Raymond found Holland in the slot for an easy-looking goal. Make that 9 points in the 12 games Holland has played 10 minutes or more.

The universe restored its natural balance as Scott took a dumb penalty a few minutes later and the Leafs scored on a powerplay; a beautiful pass from JvR to Kessel off a rebound generated from a Phaneuf point shot. 3-2 Leafs: All is right with the world, keep everyone, we didn’t mean what we said.

7 – There’s really nothing overly complicated about the way the Leafs got themselves back into the game. It sounds dumb as hell, but they just started playing. Where was this in the first? Why must we experience the utter hell of that first period before this team finds its way into the game? This team is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle surrounded in mystery.

8 – The Leafs should’ve scored an insurance marker and ended this one in regulation a couple of times over. The Rielly, Kessel and Lupul chances all come to mind. Got to have one of those.

9 – That’ll teach Randy Carlyle for taking a timeout (see why he doesn’t, guys?). The refs kept the whistles in his pocket almost all game, but a pretty weak call on Phaneuf led to a powerplay with under a minute to go. Bernier for the second time couldn’t seal a soft floater into the chester protector and it ended up in the back of the net a few seconds later.

Blame Phaneuf or Bernier as you may, that’s the 11th lead the Leafs have coughed up in the third period and ninth time they’ve gone to OT/shootout after leading going into the third period.

An amazing thing happened when Holland took a rare shift late in the game. A good forecheck, followed by a turnover, a good chance for Lupul, and an offensive zone faceoff late in the game.


10 – In a period of sustained pressure by the leafs for the final 1:30 of OT, there were a couple of great chances for JvR on a wrap around and Phaneuf from the slot that were denied by amazing toe saves by Ryan Miller.

The only reason the Leafs won the shootout was because the Sabres missed, hit the post, and mishandled the puck despite having Bernier beat in all three instances. Lupul continues to be great at scoring pretty shootout goals, too.

That’s about the least convincing way to collect six out of eight points as I’ve ever seen. I’d say it’s a good thing to play less than your best and still gather points, but we’re one game from the half way point. The Leafs are still in the mix, though. Give them that much.

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