Jonathan Bernier and Tyler Bozak Lead Maple Leafs to Victory
Perhaps I was a little too tough on Jonathan Bernier in my last blog. Toronto fans have been looking for a strong, young goaltender to lead the team back as a playoff fixture. I thought James Reimer did that last season, and was poised to do it again this season. Maybe that is why I have very high expectations for Bernier. I still think he can and should be as good if not better than former teammate and Conn Smyth trophy winner Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.
Tonight at the Air Canada Centre, Bernier was exactly the goaltender that I have seen and have grown to expect watching him play with the Kings the past few seasons. His performance was solid from start to finish. He did not allow bad rebounds, and did not lose his focus during the game. If he had played similar to Friday night against Buffalo, this game would have been a complete offensive free for all with both teams trading goals like third graders trading lunch items at school.
Fortunately, the Leafs got the Jonathan Bernier they traded for and had high hopes for; not the guy who takes a nap from time to time and allows a terrible goal at a bad time (New Jersey, Carolina, etc.) which has been the case way too many times this season. When Toronto needed the save, he came up with it and the rest of the team fed off of it. Bernier was ready to battle and go to war from the opening draw. He will need to continue this kind of effort every chance he gets. Right now, the net is his. Will he finally be able to carry and run with it?
The Maple Leafs were glad to have Tyler Bozak back. For all of you Leaf fans out there who were dissatisfied with the deal he got, this is why. Fellow line mates Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk have been lost without him, not just defensively, but offensively as well. Bozak brings balance to the line and that is what makes this the top line. There is something special between Bozak and Kessel, not sure what it is, chemistry perhaps. But with Kessel and van Riemsdyk for some reason not being the defensive responsible players they need to be, Bozak makes up for it. When Bozak is busting his butt in all areas of the ice, Kessel and van Riemsdyk seem to pick it up as well which becomes a little contagious for other guys like Jerry D'Amigo who played another strong game and served very well on the penalty kill which still could use some work.
Toronto did allow 43 shots on goal, but it seemed to me that the Hurricanes really could not sustain that much pressure in the Leafs end as much as other teams have against them over the past month or so. After the Leafs scored, Carolina did have a little bit of a push and when Toronto got the third goal, they forced Dion Phaneuf to take a penalty which they ended up scoring on. Other than those smaller moments, the Leafs finally were able to withstand the pressure well and maintain their focus on the big picture and grab that elusive regulation win. The fact that the Leafs did not allow a goal, nor endure much Carolina pressure in the third period while scoring twice more is what impressed me most tonight. Would such a successful period holding onto a 3-2 lead be the same way without the presence of a Tyler Bozak? Of course one player really does not matter all that much, but I can just see how important this guy is to a fragile Leaf team.
I guess the next thing for Toronto to do is get Dave Bolland back and ready to go and take off to where it was in October.
Nashville Trip Unsuccessful
This is what happens to me when I see the Kings or Maple Leafs play in person. When I am in the arena, anything that can go bad usually does. For the Kings to make the horrible mistakes they made in the final minutes of a close game is almost unheard of. The Kings may not be as great as the Blackhawks, but they are one of the best, if not the best of teams under late-in-game pressure situations. Since the Stanley Cup run, this team has thrived on super tight, nail-biting games that go down to the wire. For some reason on Saturday night, they looked like the little kid on the playground who just crapped his corduroys because he lost his mommy. The Kings committed one of the worst line changes in the history of hockey, then fell asleep after tying the game with 38 seconds left in regulation thinking they had a point in the bag. Give tons of credit to the Predators for coming right back at them and not feeling bad for letting the game get away just ten seconds prior. Of course, it also helps having perhaps the best coach in Barry Trotz behind the bench, getting his team to play similar no-glory-without-hard-work effort as the Kings do. It may be boring from time to time, but it pays off. At least that kind of effort gives a team a chance to win every night.
The best players on the ice were Anze Kopitar again, showing why he is one of the best defensive forwards in the league and also scoring a sniper shot and setting up the short lived tying goal which surprised everyone in the building. Marek Mazanec for the Predators also played a very strong game in goal. I guess who needs Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick with kids like Mazanec and Jones out there. A shame Jones did not get the start, but Ben Scrivens needed a game under his belt I guess. Since he took over for Quick and played great in those five or so games after the injury, Scrivens has lost both games giving up three goals, but not really looking confident or that good. When Toronto needed a game from Scrivens last season to give Reimer a break, he was definitely sharper than he has been since Jones took over.
The Kings better show some anger and some urgency in Chicago Monday night. After a gut-wrenching loss against a team who have really struggled and played the night before, the energy shouldn't be hard to find. Moreover, playing against the team who temporarily took away their Cup, I would expect a tooth and nail, blood and guts effort. If Monday's game at the United Center turns out to be another wash out, pathetic performance, then I may start to get a little worried about this club. Expect Martin Jones to get the start, and it will be his most important test as a King. It may also help answer some questions later down the road if LA faces Chicago again in a similar playoff situation as last June.
Anyways, I enjoyed Bridgestone Arena. It is a little bit smaller and more compact compared to the United Center and even Air Canada Centre, but the folks there are very friendly and helpful. Nothing like good old Southern hospitality at a hockey game, which I look forward to as I plan on moving to the Knoxville area in a few years from now. I am going to enjoy my short hour and a half ride through the mountains to Nashville to see the Kings and Maple Leafs take on the Predators in future seasons. It is a nice, cozy arena in the heart of the city and fine place to see a game. There did not seem like there was a bad seat in the building. The place was pretty filled up, some empty seats down lower, but the upper levels were packed. Although the crowd was definitely quieter for much of the game, but in the last few minutes, the place was rocking.
This time it was the Preds taking round one with a miraculous champion-like effort which really impressed me...but there'll many more to come!
Perhaps I should have been down here in October when Toronto won 4-0 and the Kings scored a 2-1 shootout victory the week after.
Well, wait, when I am in the building, things are a different story! I hope that changes next time I see a game in Music City.