Nearing the end of the first period last night between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators, things seemed absolutely dreadful for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In a game that was considered a must win by the team, the fans, and the critics, the Leafs came out of the gate flat and literally handed Nashville three goals.
After the first two goals were scored by the Predators, a visibly stressed Ron Wilson called a time out to allow his players to regroup, and they responded in the worst possible way courtesy of a Mikhail Grabovski give away, right in front of the net, that led to the third goal of the period. I must say that, at this point, I literally felt like the fans were going to go ballistic, throwing their 13 dollar beers to the ice in disgust. In fact, I predicted that Nashville was just the type of team that the Leafs would likely lose to, prolonging their winless streak (see here). Thankfully, Luke Schenn put the Buds on the board in the final 30 seconds of the first period with a very nice and nifty play.
What would have happened at this point, had the Leafs not scored that first period goal? Things looked absolutely awful in that first period, and any ground gained on Saturday night against Vancouver seemingly vanished in the first 20 minutes of the game last night. After Schenn’s goal, something changed in the mindset of the team. It was almost as if everyone on the team was suddenly fed up. They could feel the rage in the Air Canada Center.
In the second period, the Leafs started off yet again with a horrid give away, courtesy this time of Brett Lebda, to provide Nashville with a short handed goal (the first the Leafs have given up this year), and put the Predators ahead by a score of 4-1. At this point, the game could have been out of reach.
Suddenly, it was as if the Nashville Predators switched roles with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Perhaps they had been watching too much previous game footage of the Leafs, but they suddenly began to fall apart, taking penalty after penalty. Kris Versteeg got the first power play goal, and you could tell the moment he popped that goal in, he was relieved. Versteeg got his second of the night shortly after on another power play goal, and from there on out, you know the story.
Grabovski, making up for his horrid give away in the first period, potted the game tying goal. I have to admit that I was happy for him when he got that goal. After his give away in the first period that led to the third goal for the Predators, you could tell that he was very upset.
From then on out, Kulemin finished off the tremendous come back with yet another power play goal. The game could have gotten seriously bad for the Leafs after Giguere (who played very well), went down with an injury, and a cold Gustavsson stepped into the game in the third period. If it weren’t for Gustavsson’s game saving saves in the third period, the Leafs would have most likely forfeited another 2 points, and extended the losing streak to 9.
While there were many positives in last night’s game, it can not be overlooked that the Leafs did make a horrendous amount of errors last night, particularly in the third period. This team needs some serious work, and while tonight will prove to be a good confidence booster, they need to ensure that give aways are limited, defensive zone coverage is adhered to, and on offense they get back to the basics. Last night could have gotten ugly real fast if Nashville hadn’t taken so many penalties. If this were any other team last night, the Leafs would have likely been blown out. So while you may wear your Leafs jersey proud today (and believe me, I saw several people sporting their Leafs jersey on the subway this morning, the first time in weeks!), remember that we need to see some consistency out of this team before they will compete for anything. Last night was one game, and one game only.
Looking for highlights from last night’s game? Check out the video below to see the game compressed in six minutes: