While it was not an overly flashy game, and our guys were far from perfect (I appreciated Carlyle’s candid comments after the game; he didn’t try to suggest the Leafs played well early on, just because they ended up winning), the Leafs were patient, stayed with their game plan and earned two very big points. Bozak scored a beauty of a short-handed marker to tie things up at one in the second period. And Matt Frattin was johnny-on-the-spot yet again, redirecting a Franson shot (now there’s a guy who can get the puck to the net from the point…) after Kadri was aggressive in keeping the puck in the Winnipeg zone.
On a late-game power play, you could almost feel the winner was on Kessel’s stick when Bozak left a perfect drop pass for his goal-starved winger, who wristed it home under the crossbar with authority for his first of the season—and a true game-winner.
It was nice to see Reimer win in what was a “home” game for him. He did what he had to do, and had zero chance at the second Winnipeg goal that changed directions in a big way—and looked to be standing up as the winner, until the late game heroics from Frattin and then Kessel.
Personally, I’m still not quite seeing what I’d like to see from certain players on a consistent basis, but what we are seeing is a pretty solid effort every night. The Leafs have not really been walked over this season. Physically, they are holding up. They may not be the toughest team in the league, but I have not had a sense that they are being out-muscled on a regular basis in games. They are playing what I might call persistent hockey. They’ve certainly been good on the road.
I’ll keep saying it: this team can make the playoffs in the East. I am absolutely convinced the East is filled with what I called (above) “bubble” teams—squads that are not bad, but if any one of a number of things don’t go their way, they will struggle—just like the Leafs. I think Montreal, Carolina, Winnipeg, the Isles, Panthers, Sabres and Washington are all in tough and none of them is a surefire playoff team.
Neither is Toronto, but we’re right there. And as I’ve said before, it’s not that I have these lofty dreams for this season, but making the playoffs would be a step in the right direction for a program that has not given its young players a shot at spring hockey for too long.