While there has been absolutely nothing to complain about for the past few weeks (with a record of 9-1-1 heading into the Florida matchup Tuesday night) Leaf fans were nonetheless looking for a bounce back game in Tampa on Thursday night.
The Leafs delivered.
They played a spirited contest against a team that has managed to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference standings over the past couple of months, despite the loss of the sublimely skilled Steven Stamkos. I thought Toronto was full measure for the 4-1 win.
A few observations from the contest:
- Bernier continued to play with calm and confidence, though that has been standard stuff much of the season. He withstood a brief flurry after Tampa made it 3-1 and that helped cement the victory.
- Clarkson, the focus of a recent post here, seemed to fit nicely with Lupul and Kadri when given that opportunity against Tampa. Many have commented here that they would like to see this trio have a shot to stay together for a while. Does this game Carlyle something to contemplate over the Olympic break?
- Ranger needed to get back into the lineup somehow—something that has been hard to do with the Leafs on a roll. While he has had an uneven season, we need to have all our defensemen ready. Playing seven defensemen was a bit of a mini-breather to those who have been logging extensive minutes of late, without anyone having to be a healthy scratch.
- Raymond scored his 15th of the season. Who had that number in mind when the Leafs signed him as a tryout player at training camp?
- Given the ice time he logs and who he plays against. Phaneuf being a plus 18 at this point in the season is, well, pretty darn impressive.
- I don’t make predictions but I’ll say this: Lupul can be a key Leaf down the stretch, especially after three weeks of rest before the close of the regular season and the playoffs. He just needs to be healthy.
- If I’m not mistaken, Rielly has points in 7 of his last 11 games.
- McClement doesn't score often, but that was a sweet sleight of hand to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead early in the third period. (Of note, Clarkson made that play with a strong rush and a timely pass…)
In the final seconds, the Leafs did the right thing in responding to the Tampa forward running at Bernier. You just can't let teams do that. All part of this team finding an identity and playing for one another...
While the show was conducted before the Tampa game, if you’re interested in a bit of an inside look at a potential Leaf-Lightning playoff match-up, check out the latest ”Maple Leaf Hangout”. Our guest is long-time Tampa Tribune beat writer Erik Eriendsson, who provided a perspective we wouldn't get anywhere else.