The Leafs react to spring like their namesake does to autumn, it seems, but this game is always fun. The ex- Ontarians in the audience in their Buds regalia adds to the atmosphere.
This game also saw the injury list drop a page as four guys moved back into the lineup, with Richardson, Bieksa, Higgins and Weber ( although Burrows was out of this one with what the coach called a "short term injury" ) all seeing their first work in varying degrees of a while. With the Canucks having it all to play for and the Leafs in the McDavid sweepstakes, you would think a quick start would behoove the home team in this one.
The "Go Leafs Go" chant started with the opening faceoff, and the got a chance to ooh and aah too, as Komarov got a great early chance that Eddie Lack stoned. It was matched by a Daniel Sedin rush, as the teams traded early chances in a wide open back and forth start.
That Horvat Line did what that line does with about thirteen minutes left in the first, grinding ( a spectacular "hit back at the hitter" pop by Ronalds Renins on Sill highlighted this shift, as did Hansen being a superlative puckhound ) and drew a penalty for the first power play. The now 22nd overall man advantage looked very good, and had one solid chance, but could not cash in on the opportunity.
The pace continued in the Canucks favour, with a 5-4 edge with about 7:30 left.. The Leafs were happy to play this back and forth, even though their lines were getting torched versus the Sedins et al on the Corsi's... ( the hockeystats.ca Corsi is right here,) Henrik and Zack Kassian were +8 five on five after the opening period, and Daniel +7. Impressive. That Horvat Line being a combined +11, and only on for one shot against in their first period's work was pretty impressive too.
Speaking of impressive, Brad Richardson and Chris Higgins showed some impressive hustle and communication ( Derek Dorestt too ! ;-) to cycle Morgan Reilly and Eric Brewer to sleep, before a pretty Richardson pass from behind the net found Higgins coming down the middle at the perfect ime to one time it high on Bernier for the opening goal. They had 19 shot attempts before this one went in.
That same line should have made it 2-0 late, after a great shift and some goal mouth pressure with :28 seconds left. It was actually a mixed line, with Hansen off a change setting up Bieksa, who was saved. I think Hansen got the post in the scramble as well. The Canucks outshot the Leafs two to one by a12-6 count, and held a 22-12 edge in attempts after an opening period that had the Leaf fans in the audience pretty quiet by the midway point of a solid period for the Canucks.
Daniel Sedin had 5 shot attempts, 2 credited shots in 6 shifts and 5:28 of ice time. A couple of those misses were prime scoring chances for the younger Sedin, and that line was pretty good. But every line did their jobs. See the regular stats here. A perfect example of Whiteboard Willie's four line grind. That Horvat Line also had 6 shifts. The played about a minute and a half less than the first line on the same number of shifts in the first, but that is a pretty good indicator of a team that spreads it around.
The second started out in similar fashion, as Bonino and Hamhuis both had good early chances foiled by Bernier. A slightly ticky tack hooking call on Kassian gave the Leafs the chance to try and tie it up, and they almost did that, with Bozak hitting the post on the ensuing power play. The Leaf power play looked like it was inevitably going to score, when, after a puck turnover, Bonino and Dorsett slowwwwlllly made their way up ice on a two on one, with Bernier losing his net, giving Dorsett his second point of three, and a big goal two seconds after the power play.
That Horvat Line then did their grinding thing again and got together on a pretty play ( see below )
to make it 3-0 just :32 seconds later, as Hansen finished off the rebound after Kenins was set up by Horvat and robbed. The Leafs weakly protested that it was goalie interference, but Lupul clearly pushed the Latvian Bowling Ball into his own player.
Lack was put to work and made a couple sparkling saves on a power play shortly after the 3-0 goal, and came through as usual. And though Tanev did have the stick up around the hands, you got the feeling that the refs were calling that one because they knew that clickers all over the Golden Horseshoe were being battled over in favour of something else than a team that already has nothing to play for.
I mean, Drew Doughty got away with the same thing about five - six times in the last game. They then made an even lighter call ( if that was made in the playoffs, that ref would not be working again ) on Weber against Kessel to make it five on three, Lack stopped Kessel a couple times, and Matthias and Higgins had a two on one chance, as the Canucks withstood the three straight power plays and five on three. Now THAT will help the penalty kill percentage !
It has to be said as well, Brad Richardson is a welcome sight in the line up. He sparked his line with Dorsett and Higgins, and made his linemates better. This game got a sudden bit of feeling in the second as well. The Leafs were playing better, and the Sedin line responded with another shift in the offensive end. Kassian went for the puck that was covered by Bernier. Then after the "hello" cross check to Phaneuf, the Leaf captain responded with a gloved punch that incensed The Big Guy. The fact that all of that resulted in a four on four was a bit puzzling, although the game misconduct was not. I suspect that was for going ape$*** and having a linesman who was trying to intervene end up on his back and under it all as a result.
The Canucks dominated the four on four, and on a great wrap around chance by Richardson, MacWilliam high sticked Dorsett. Vrbata had a good chance, but was denied, and as Hansen ( who served the penalty for Kassian, and was beaking it with Dion the whole time, about how he got away with "turtling" and taking a Canuck player off as a result of his first punch that got The Big Guy going ) was showing everyone in Charades form now how Dion Phaneuf resembled a shelled reptile, we went to the intermission of a period in which the Leafs played a bit better, but just not good enough. They were now almost out of it 3-0, even with the string of power plays early on that gave them a chance to get back in.
They rode those power plays to a better looking standing in the Corsi table, perhaps, but if you look again at the puck possession graph, Peter Horachek must have noticed that they had zippedty-do-da while the Canucks graph looked like The North Face of K-2 or something in comparison in the last five minutes. Baby steps, Buds fans, baby steps...
The Canucks opened the third with the man advantage, and were not able to make that 22nd best power play look any better once again, as the Leafs killed off the rest of their penalty.
They were not able to get much more as we went to five on five again either, as the Canucks were rolling lines and making sure the visiting team barely got over centre ice. Of course, the very first time they got in the offensive zone, a Hamhuis slash gave the Leafs yet another power play. This one was largely ineffective until the final 30 seconds, and had only one "meh" shot that required a save.
The Leafs actually had a bit of a push, before That Horvat Line had another solid shift to put "Mo'" back in the home team's corner, with the Richardson line following it up. That is the thing about having four lines rolling. Everyone ends up making good plays one after another, and it snowballs. You cannot wait for your next jump over the boards to make your contribution. The Canucks are playing the four line system like they were born to it. They don't look tired out there, do they ?
Bo Horvat certainly didn't, with his innate sense of timing making his bull rush and chance on Bernier after the HNIC crew sang his praises look like it was almost planned. He drew a penalty on the play, and the Canuck power play had a chance to turn it around once again.
They were taken right back off of this one, as Smith was denied a shorty by Lack, and Edler was called on a slash on the play. The four on four was not the Sedin Time it usually is, as Kessel picked off a Henrik Sedin pass and raced the other way.
The Leaf's erstwhile sniper was given the penalty shot, and deked Lack nicely for a goal that made it 3-1.
Perhaps it was the slightly closer scoreline, or maybe the Leafs woke up a little, but the game suddenly turned into the back and forth mad dash that it was at the outset. We even got the competing chants from the crowd, as the "Go Leafs Go" competed with "Go Canucks Go".
Horacheck decided that 3:35 was a good time to pull the goalie, and after Shawn Matthias got a half chance at it earlier, Kessel responded by going into a puck battle along the boards in the Canuck end like a peewee player,meekly surrendering the puck to Dorsett. D.D bumped it up to Matthias, and Big Guy #2 made no mistake to make it 4-1.
The last penalty ( Hansen's stick caught up in Lidtstrom's skates on a rush ) was a mean nothing affair, and the Canucks watched Eddie Lack do his victory jig.
Numbers Of Interest
51 - Derek Dorsett had 2 assists, a goal, and was a +3. He had 2 of 3 shots force a save, and had a block and a hit. All in 13:16. He also made Richardson and Higgins look like they had not missed a moment. A great game for Double D'.
-2 - That was Phil Kessel'a five on five Corsi number tonight. It was not that bad, as far as the Leaf line up went ( Smith and Lupul at +4, and Komarov at +3 were their best on the night ), and he had a goal on the penalty shot. BUt this goal was a perfect encapsulation of how this guy must be frustrating to watch. He hangs out up top ( in minor hockey, we called them "goal sucks" ), and the noted effort on the empty netter were more what he was noticed for on this night. The guy had 7 shot attempts ( 3 on, 4 off ) and was almost invisible five on five.
6 - Christopher Tanev is hard as ...well, he is pretty tough. With most of them on that little tun of penalty killing time in the second, Tanev led the game with 6 blocks.
28 - It did not seem like he had to do a ton of work, and there was a post by Bozak, but that was a tidy performance by Eddie Lack.
53 - Bo Horvat was only 3 for 10 in the circle, but he and his line were a big part of the win tonight. An assist, +1, 3 shots, and 3 blocks in 12:15 of work for the most mature 19 year old in the NHL.
7 - Not really concerned with the fact they got seven penalties against. As I said above, some were light, and several reeked of game management. The PK was pretty solid anyhow.
That is it then. A well deserved victory, and a needed two points. Next up is the Flyers on St Patrick's Day, as the Canucks honour Pat Quinn. That is one man that was definitely partying in Heaven before the Devil knew he was dead.
The Big Irishman was beloved here. Look for the Canucks to ride some emotion in that one.