The past week for the Leafs has seen Wellwood and Tucker make their returns to the lineup, Kaberle continue his recuperation from the scrub's hit, a couple of tough losses, a stultifying win, and a momentum shifting comeback.
Saturday March 3, 2007 - Leafs 1 v. Sabres 3: Will No One Finish?
The Leafs hosted a Sabres team that was ripe for the picking as they were (and continue to be) in their first real injury crisis since last year's playoffs. I guess the Leafs understood how they felt and wanted to do their part to help the Sabres through their troubled time. It was a magnanimous gesture on the part of the Leafs but one that they could hardly afford. Despite keeping a lid on the Slugs the buds coughed up enough mental errors and missed chances to allow the team from across the Peace Bridge to steal a 3-1 decision.
If you assume that the Leafs will face the Sabres in the first round if they qualify then it could hvae been a strategic move to play the inept possum. However, considering the Leafs have two games left against these same Sabres then you would not be wrong in thinking that the Leafs lacked a certain finishing edge to their chances. Something that a player like Tucker or Wellwood could provide when healthy.
Tuesday March 6, 2007 - Leafs 3 v. Capitals 0: Shoot Me
This was a terrible game that lacked flow, passion, and excitement but the Leafs won so I cannot be too upset despite having to pay MLSE's ridiculous prices. We kept joking that we did not realize that Ovechkin and Semin were healthy scratches as they were completely invisible. Raycroft had a good solid game as he turned away 24 shots for his second shutout of the season and Tucker picked up the GWG. Yanic Perreault scored his first goal in his third run with the team on a nice burst of speed down the boards before slotting the puck behind the Hershey Bears' starting goaltender. Nik Antropov and Alex Ponikarovsky combined to ice the game on a nice bit of interplay. Poni dropped the puck at the blueline and drove to the net where he deflected Antro's low, hard shot into the net.
Thursday March 8, 2007 - Leafs 1 v. senators 5: No Goals Please, We're Grinders
This was a game of missed opportunities as Travis Green, Matt Stajan, Bates Battaglia (TWICE!), and John Pohl all missed wide open nets. Each (save for Green's) came at crucial junctions that could have changed the momentum of a game that saw the senators score on their first two powerplays and one of Toronto's. Not the start that the Leafs wanted to this home-and-home series with their nemesis.
Saturday March 10, 2007 - Leafs 4 v. senators 3 (OT): Domination Rewarded
I stretched my personal win streak to three games with this one although the result was in doubt for most of the game. It was an odd one that, despite numerous scoring chances for the Leafs, had a bit of a dull feeling to it until the last 10 minutes of the third. The senators looked poised to steal a win on the back of some opportunism and excellent goaltending by Ray Emery despite being heavily outplayed by the good guys.
First, Boyd Devereaux scored on the only mistake in an otherwise stunning display of goaltending when he sneaked a shot over the shoulder of Ray Emery who had gone down too early. Then, Mats outskated Wade Redden and slipped a pass to the much maligned Nik Antropov who used his 8 foot reach to whack home his own rebound. That set the stage for the Leaf fans' sweetheart, Darcy Tucker, to finish the game off on a nice one-two with Pavel Kubina to notch his second goal of the game. The ACC erupted as the Leafs' faithful celebrated a deserved victory and smug sens' fans sat shocked wondering how another lead slipped away in the third.
Wellwood made a welcome return to the Leafs lineup and his skill showed as he set up a number of chances. Last night was the first time since December 19th that he and Tucker were both in the lineup. No surprise that one of them was the difference in the game as both picked up stars. They provided the skill and finishing that was lacking on Thursday night and that has cost the Leafs so many points in 2007. The race for eighth is down to the final 13 games and the cavalry looks to have made its appearance just in time.