When Sheldon Souray high-sticked Lupul in the dying seconds of the third period, things looked bleak for the Leaf winger. He was stunned by the hit to the head, apparently hurt, and despite wearing a visor he was cut just above the eye. (There was, interestingly, no penalty on the play. My guess is the referees didn’t want to give the Leafs a two-man advantage that late in in a tie game.)
In any event, Lupul never left the bench, and after getting patched up and almost connecting on a neat Colborne pass just before overtime ended, he had one more opportunity for “pay-back”. He did just that, when he rifled home the only shoot-out goal, to give the Leafs two more valuable points (one "extra" point) in the Eastern Conference standings.
A couple of post-game observations:
- I know I’m not the only person whose jaw dropped when Connolly made that pass to MacArthur for the third-period game-tying goal. Talk about on-ice vision. To the casual observer, there was nothing there, then all of a suden, the puck was in the Dallas net. I acknowledge I have been a hesitant “adopter” when it comes to Connolly, given what I saw and heard out of Buffalo in his last year there. But even I can’t miss those kinds of plays.
- Kessel continues to look like one of the most dangerous guys in the game, and also helped prevent a goal. Objectively, I wonder who hockey “experts” see as more dangerous than the Leaf winger at the moment?
- Injuries continued to mount for the Leafs, with Steckel and Gunnarsson leaving and not returning. Both play important roles, but I’m guessing Zigomanis will be called up to play that fourth line/face-off and penalty-killing role.
- On the blueline, the easy solution would seem to be to insert Holzer into the line-up. He’s been with the team for about a week now and is no doubt anxious to get into a game. I wonder if Franson is nicked up or if Wilson saw something in his game that the coach didn’t like, because Franson only played about 11 minutes—despite Gunnarson’s injury. That meant Gardiner played the most minutes he ever has at this level (around 28 minutes). I'm guessing Holzer gets in, and Aulie is up next if there is an issue with Franson.
- I thought Gustavsson made some nice saves to preserve the lead, and then the tie, in the third period. He was caught on his knees on the 3-3 goal, but that marker was a function of the 5-man unit on the ice for the Leafs being trapped in their own zone, especially after Frattin couldn’t clear the zone. They were simply exhausted and couldn’t get the puck out.
- As Leaf fans, we should keep in mind the Kari Lehtonen example when we assess Jonas Gustavsson. Now, there is an obvious difference in that Lehtonen was a high first-round draft choice with Atlanta back in 2002. But they are similar in that both goalies were in big demand when they were available. Both are tall, European, and the Dallas goalie is just now emerging as a top-flight goalie, several years into his NHL career—at the age of 28, a bit older than Gustavsson. Lehtonen had to go elsewhere to find a home but is now a big-time backstop with the Stars. I’ve often said here that The Monster may have to go elsewhere to find his comfort zone. But regardless, he should be recognized for helping the Leafs earn some big wins while Reimer has been unavailable. It’s good for his confidence, for the team, and for his future “value”- here or elsewhere.
Many Leaf fans are probably still just in that “process” of transitioning from always worrying about what bad thing will happen next, to believing instead that the good guys can actually win the day.
Here’s what I mean: for the last seven or eight seasons (and off and on over the past 45 years, as we all know) the team’s lack of ultimate success in the spring has created the Charlie Brown/Lucy affect. That is, we always think the football will be pulled away from us yet again, just when we think the Leafs may have finally turned a corner.
So as this young, fast-skating team (that has a nice ring to it) looks good this season more often than not, fans are slowly, often cautiously, beginning to feel that the sky may not really fall. For example, they are not just hoping the team will come back when they are behind in a game, but believe that they will come back.
And that’s a pretty good feeling for a fan.
One thing caught my eye while watching the Leaf game in Dallas Friday night. It was simple, but it revealed to me where this team’s “head” is at. During a late second period power-play, with the score tied at 2, the Leafs had the puck in the Stars’ zone and the camera angle provided a quick glimpse of the Leaf bench. Most of the guys on the bench were standing, in anticipation of another Leaf power-play goal as they buzzed around the net. It wasn’t just a few guys waiting for a line-change so they could hop on the ice. It was teammates cheering on teammates, thinking something good was about to happen.
It didn’t, not that time, but what that left with me is this: this Leaf team, despite their youth, despite injuries, despite working through a tough road trip, despite often feeling fragile, no doubt, is beginning to believe in themselves, and as importantly, in each other.
If that feeling catches on, and really sinks in, we could be on the verge of something we haven’t seen in a long time. A team that will lose some nights, sure, and may look bad at times, but one that, dare I say it, Leaf fans will be proud of.