This egregious stretch, where the Leafs play five good teams and travel 9,170 km in eight days, started with a bang as Phil Kessel notched three points, Jonathan Bernier made 43 saves, David Clarkson won two fights and Paul freaking Ranger played a big part in defeating the second-best team in the NHL.
The Buds started off strong, as both teams combined for a crisp, aggressive game that saw two fights early in the first period. First up was Clarkson beating Ben Lovejoy, then after Tim Gleason schooled Patrick Maroon a few minutes later, Tyler Bozak opened the scoring by one-timing a beautiful Dion Phaneuf pass by Fredrick Anderson.
Just a few minutes later, Phil Kessel hopped on a Ducks turnover in the offensive zone, split the D and sped in on a breakaway. He mustered a pretty good shot up high that was initially blocked by Anderson, but the puck trickled up in the air, hit the goalie stick and fell into the net, giving the Leafs a two goal lead. The Ducks were showing flashes of being the dominant team they truly are, but Bernier repeatedly denied shot after to preserve the lead.
In the second period, Paul Ranger took over. This is not a typo. In a matter of seconds, the often-shamed defenseman made a superb block to deny Teemu Selanne in point-blank range, then jumped into a 2-on-1 with Phil Kessel. After forcing Anderson to defend the shot, Kessel fed Ranger with a perfect pass and the big defenseman made no mistake, putting the Leafs up 3-0.
The Ducks fought their way back, narrowing the deficit to two goals after Corey Perry converted during an utterly dominant shift from him, Ryan Getzlaf and Maroon. Anaheim didn’t go down easily, but Toronto was able to prevent the blowback for long enough (not to mention two full minutes of 6-on-5) to claim the 3-1 win.
Head Coach Randy Carlyle, Assistant Coach Dave Farriss and Joffrey Lupul all beat their former team, while the rest of the Buds did everything we could have asked for and more.
1. Jonathan Bernier. Absolutely spectacular. The reason the Leafs stayed ahead.
2. Phil Kessel: Involved with every goal, his speed was a game-breaker.
3. Paul Ranger: Solid defensively in addition to scoring the insurance marker.
The first line was once again fantastic, as JVR and Bozak also had strong games at both ends of the ice.
The Lupul-Kulemin-Kadri line was just okay. Hard to criticize a victory, but the team needs more from this second unit as the games get more important.
Toughness helped the Leafs gain momentum early in the game, as Gleason and Clarkson proved to be a thorn in the Ducks’ side.
The Leafs are now 5-1-1 when dressing an extra defenseman as opposed to an extra forward. When Gleason sat in the box for seven minutes near the end of the first period, the Buds had six other guys to pick up the slack. In contrast, when the Habs lost Jarred Tinordi for a misconduct vs. the Sharks on Saturday, they imploded with just five defensemen by allowing two goals that put the game out of reach.
Peter Holland was pretty invisible on Monday night. Although he showed some promise after his trade from the Ducks a few months ago, this team would be much better with Dave Bolland in the lineup and Holland helping out the Marlies. Bolland hopes to play during this trip.
It’s refreshing to watch a game on Leafs TV once in a while. They minimize the air-time of suits who think they know everything, unlike CBC, TSN and Sportsnet. Instead, Leafs TV puts on some intense music and lets the images tell the story.
Up next.... San Jose. Tuesday night, 10:30 p.m.... get your Leaf jammies ready! (I know mine are). Lets make it four wins in a row.