LEAFS MAN inspired the Leafs' to victory.
The Toronto Maple Leafs overcame an early 2-0 deficit to beat the Florida Panthers 6-4. By early I mean that the Panthers scored two goals in 53 seconds and Jonas Gustavsson looked like he might be in for a short night. Of course, he showed his ability to recover by stoning the Panthers on a breakaway and making a couple of big saves to keep the Leafs down only two. That set the stage for Phil Kessel to begin the Leafs' fightback. First off: don't the Leafs score some pretty goals against the Panthers? Here's Hagman's epic snipe from last year:
And here is Philty Phil Kessel's gorgeous goal. Aside from leaving Keith Ballard red-faced and bare-assed after the undressing I was really impressed with the cool, well-placed finish. Rather than try to hammer a puck home he just slid it through Alexei Ponikarovsky's wonderful screen:
Phil "Marc Savard Me Him" Kessel now has eight goals in 12 games (55 goal pace) and three assists none of which involved Marc Savard. Weird. The best part of that goal was the assist that Luke Schenn got for blocking a shot which bounced to Kessel. That's the third assist a Leaf has gotten off of a Kessel goal by getting him the puck in the Leafs' own zone. The first goal might have started the comeback but the second helped revive a Leafs team that could have been on the verge of folding after a heart-breaking fourth Panthers goal. Good thing he tied things up again 13 seconds later.
Going goal for goal with Phil Kessel is Niklas Hagman. He added two more tonight - one via a Ponikarovsky pass and another on the back of Christian Hanson's excellent forechecking - now has 13 goals in 23 games. Keep in mind that his career high is 27 goals in 82 games which he potted two years ago with Dallas. After a listless two goals and one assist start to the season Hagman has eleven goals and three assists in eighteen games since he was sent to the press box. I wonder if Ron Wilson will get any credit for the improvement?
The third head in this hydra of productive Leafs' forwards was Alexei Ponikarovsky. He added a goal and three assists but his most valuable contribution was showing what happens when forwards go to the net properly. He created a screen on Kessel's goal and then potted his on the powerplay because, instead of standing to the side of the goalie like every other Leafs' forward, he was planted right in front of Tomas Vokoun.
Gustavsson didn't have his best game but he made the big saves when the team needed them (except on the goals). The second on was very weak, the third wasn't helped by the presence of Garnet Exelby in the crease, and the fourth was knocked in my Gustavsson's blocker as he scrambled back after the Leafs' penalty killers allowed a slick cross-box pass. Speaking of penalties, Pierre Champoux was the cause of one so terrible that the ref apologised to Beauchemin after the game.
The Leafs were not able to get a lead until Hagman put them up 5-4 but once they did they did a good job of shutting things down. While they were pressured in their zone a couple of times they did well to prevent any great scoring chances other than a Nathan Horton blast that went over the net.
So as was pointed out, the Leafs are 6-4-6 since their 0-7-1. That's good for 18 points out of 32 available during those 16 games. That's pro-rates out to 92 points over a full season which would put them right where most fans expected them to be: scratching and clawing for the playoffs. They are on an honest-to-goodness winning streak and get a Saturday off to rest up for the upcoming games against the Bruins on Monday before heading out on the road for three tough games in Montreal, Columbus, and Boston.
On a final note: Congratulations to Tomas Kaberle who moved into second spot on the Leafs' all-time defencemen scoring chart with Tim Horton.