Welcome back to the scene Mr. Bernier and Mr. Kadri.
Tonight at the Air Canada Centre, the Maple Leafs got exactly what they were asking for when they traded for Jonathan Bernier. Bernier was a man on a mission tonight, and although he allowed the game-tying goal later in the third on an outstanding hand-eye coordination play by the savvy veteran Shawn Horcoff, he stood tall in net and gave his team a chance to secure a much needed point and improbable victory in the later stages of the overtime session.
To begin with, it was amazing and also very heartwarming to see Nazem Kadri play perhaps his best game of the season just after his grandfather recently passed earlier this week. I am sure somewhere, his grandfather was watching from above and smiled down on the kid.
It reminds me of the summer of 2011 when my own grandfather passed, whom I was very close to. My softball game the very next night, July 6th, I ended up playing the best game of my "old man" summer softball career and hit bullets all over the field that night in a rare win for my beleaguered club. Divine power. Amazing what that extra boost of energy can do for you and what it does to help regain your focus. Talk about in the zone, especially on the second Toronto goal in which Kadri tipped in a shot-pass from Cody Franson from the point. A thing of beauty. Franson also played a strong game after missing Tuesday with an injury. In fact, all six defensive players have looked good the past two games.
Toronto once again started off with a solid effort, got the quick goal in the second period, but Jamie Benn and his Dallas Stars stepped up their effort in a big way and really took over the game. Bernier was equal to the task, including besting Benn several times point blank. What a player Benn is and same goes to the dynamic 18-year old Valeri Nichushkin. Dallas came close to winning the game in regulation and in overtime almost because of those two. In fact, Horcoff's original tip-in goal seemed to me as if it was legal enough. Perhaps the Leafs caught a break, but the team was definitely in need of one.
Simple enough, the Leafs seemed destined to at least earn a point from this game. Perhaps, a little "divine" energy helped the cause in the end, after Dallas had almost won it off a great individual effort from Nichushkin at the other end, Trevor Smith was able to tip in a shot from Jake Gardiner with a little over a minute left in overtime.
So, similar to the month of October, the Leafs, despite getting outshot by a wide margin, found a way in the end. Bend but not break. Make some plays. Earn the points.
Perhaps we have been critical of the Maple Leafs season, myself included, but looking at the Eastern standings, Toronto is definitely in this new playoff race format for the long run. If the Leafs were in the West, then likely it would be a different story. Tampa is battling without Steve Stamkos until February. Both New York teams are struggling, athough the Rangers have started to come on late. Washington is soft, as are most of the Eastern teams. Obviously, Boston and Pittsburgh are going to be the teams to beat again in the end, and Detroit is also a strong team, getting used to Eastern style play. After that, no other team really impresses yet. Should be just enough time for the Maple Leafs to heal up, get it going again in January and put the pedal to the metal.
Why worry now? Just battle and get through these next few weeks.
In closing tonight, I want to say a little about the Los Angeles Kings and the shootout victory for Martin Jones the other night in his NHL debut.
What a confidence booster for the 23-year old netminder who has been buried behind the likes of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. Ben Scrivens has been the man in the cage, and still needs to be as the Kings still are having all kinds of trouble finding the back of the net, but I see this is as another opportunity for the Kings and Jones.
I do think that the kid should get some more playing time between now and the time Quick returns. If he can play well, and help a struggling offensive team earn points like he did the other night in a very tough environment against a Ducks team who still have not lost a regulation game at home, then this could be another Jonathan Bernier situation. Jones could prove to be a very good trade chip that could help the Kings land another promising scorer somewhere. However, the organization is going to have to be quick and pull the trigger on this soon. Quick and Scrivens to me are in this for the long run.
But kudos to Jones for standing tall, making a great first stop after not seeing a single shot until nine minutes in. If that were me, I would have been as nervous as hell and probably been beaten. In fact, my first start in goal for Hope College in 2002, that was exactly what happened! First shot came several minutes in, two on two from the blue line, the kid snapped a quick one five hole...coach yells off from the bench to "bleeping" focus! But I settled down, and helped my boys earn an 8-4 victory over Lansing CC in Michigan. Ah, the good old days when I used to be in shape and athletic!
Looking forward to Saturday night...Leafs travel to Ottawa and take on another struggling team, but this one, I am scratching my head over. The Senators have a strong short season in 2013 without the likes of Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson, they get those guys back healthy, add Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur, and for some reason cannot beat anyone.
The Kings will host the New York Islanders, who were pounded in St. Louis tonight, and will also be wearing the old purple and gold jerseys as they honor Larry Murphy on Legends Night.