Maple Leafs 4, New Jersey Devils 2
For forty minutes, it was men against boys.
James Reimer was sharp, but still was beaten four times; twice by Marek Zidlicky and twice saved by iron.
Forty minutes, it was the defending Eastern champions against the adolescent Maple Leafs, a team who had not made the playoffs since 2004.
New Jersey, led by the ageless Patrick Elias, was the team playing with supreme confidence, doing the little things and winning all of the one-on-one battles against the Leafs, led by Dion Phaneuf, still struggling to find its way. The team in blue and white, that was being outplayed and shut down by a stronger, more determined Devils team.
But something happened at the 2nd intermission. Perhaps it was what I had mentioned earlier today in my pre-game blog. Give me a second...need to play back the tape from this afternoon...ah, found it!
"The rest of the NHL and anti-Maple Leaf fans out there expect the Leafs to fall flat on their faces this week. I, however have some confidence in this team as well as my renewed faith in coach Randy Carlyle. He has brought somewhat of a calming sense to this team as well as physical and mental toughness. The Leafs will need to embrace both of those aspects this week more than ever."
-Courtesy of yours truly, not The Canadian Press this time...
This game could have very easily been 4-1 after two, if not worse. The Maple Leafs bent a little, but never broke tonight against the Devils. Under Ron Wilson, the Leafs probably would have caved in during the third period, but under Randy Carlyle, this team continues to build strong mental as well as physical edge to its game.
Another proof of evidence to support this sentiment has been the penalty killing of the Maple Leafs, which has been extraordinary. Last season, mostly under Ron Wilson, Toronto killed off just 77.3% of its penalties and just 77.4% the season before that. Currently, the Leafs are 13th in the NHL with an 82.7% success rate. Everyone on the ice have done their jobs well with a man short and the shot blocking has also been an outstanding element.
The defending champion Kings, who have excelled in this special teams area have allowed one more power play goal against (14) than Toronto (13) and carry an 82.0% penalty kill rate into tonight's game against Nashville.
So, while the power play still needs work, the additions of van Riemsdyk and McClement have greatly helped strengthen a major weakness in the past.
Perhaps things could have been a little different if Martin Brodeur had been in goal instead of Johan Hedberg, who gave up a couple of soft goals; one from Nazem Kadri and later to Jay McClement after a bad giveaway by Elias in his own zone.
New Jersey became the team the Leafs were in the first two periods, getting careless with the puck and finding themselves out of position to make the plays necessary to win a game.
It was Zidlicky, who had taken over the show in the second period with a pair of highlight reel goals, that made a bad pinch that allowed James van Riemsdyk break out on a two-on-one with Phil Kessel finishing off the play for the decisive game-ending score.
Normally, that would have been someone like Korbinian Holzer or Carl Gunnarsson that would have made the pinch that cost the Leafs in the end.
Talk about a complete change of fortune for both of these teams tonight...
With New Jersey already up 2-1 and on a late second period power play seemed primed to ice the game from that point on, but solid penalty killing by Toronto and some timely saves by Reimer helped keep the Leafs in a game they had no business winning.
Randy Carlyle's Maple Leafs came out in the third period and took advantage of the first mistake by the Devils and planted it behind Hedberg. From then on, the Leafs smelled blood and never showed any mercy on the red and black.
Reimer put the finishing touches on the Devils with a stellar sliding pad save beating Elias across the crease later in the third. This is the James Reimer the Leafs need if they are to become a playoff team this season. Brian Burke deserves some credit being the one who kept defending his young protege netminder last season and into this one. It was not all about goaltending last year. If Reimer had not gotten hurt, the Leafs probably would have snuck in the top eight.
The Leafs cannot give up on this kid. The only way they will or can give up on him will be due to his ability to stay strong and healthy. It won't be because of his game.
Bend but not break...no matter how close it comse to shattering.
More on Mike Brown and 4th Line:
Mike Brown is the type of player that should help the Oilers in the long run. They need a little more physical toughness to help protect guys like Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov.
But I also need to eat some of my words from earlier today. I had mentioned that Brown's departure could have been due to some of his poor offensive zone penalties like the one the other night against Montreal's Josh Gorges.
Tonight, it was Frazer McLaren who committed a similar penalty that almost cost the Leafs early on. After being significantly outworked for the first time this season, the line of McLaren and Orr did not see much ice time if any after the Devils took the lead in the second period.
I don't think it will take much from Carlye to get through to these guys. I expect them to come out hitting hard against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. If not however, then the Leafs will indeed be missing Brown.
But let's not worry about that yet. The returns of Matt Frattin and Joffrey Lupul will help add some more "punch" to the lineup.