TORONTO – Third periods have been a glass half-full, glass half-empty debate for the Toronto Maple Leafs recently.
They let a third period lead slip for the fourth time in the past five games against the Flyers on Saturday evening – twice in fact on this night – only to rally for a second straight overtime win.
“We don't want to make a habit of blowing third period leads,” said Joffrey Lupul, who scored the overtime winner, “but things are going to happen, other teams are going to make plays. We stuck with it. There was a good feeling on our bench going into overtime. It seemed like everyone had their composure and was calm and we got the result we needed.”
Rather than focus their attention on fumbled leads – Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn did the damage for Philadelphia in the final frame – the Leafs opted for the glass half-full approach, looking at how they responded to such deflation, first rallying in overtime to beat the Rangers on Wednesday night before doing the same against the Flyers in a 4-3 victory on this night.
“That's really what we focus on,” said Nazem Kadri, who scored his 17th of the year before initiating the rush that led to Lupul's overtime winner. “We showed character to stay in games even though it's a little bit deflating at times giving up a couple [one]-goal leads in the third period, especially late, to force overtime. But we stayed positive and came out with the right outcome.”
“We were able to regroup and that's a positive for us because a lot of times when the game gets away from you your team goes and continues to spiral,” added head coach Randy Carlyle. “Well, we didn't spiral in my mind. Maybe if I re-watch it again I'll have a different opinion, but it didn't seem like we were under siege in the third.”
The tight-rope is perilous to walk on and in fumbling leads to the Islanders and Canadiens shortly after the Olympic break, the Leafs ended up losing in overtime twice, two points left on the table in the playoff race.
And so for whatever credit they deserve for rallying under such circumstances, the trend of slipping third period leads is of legitimate concern, especially considering how frequently it's happened. Whether due to inexperience, poor decision-making, poor defence, a poor power-play or the feisty push-back of their competition, the Leafs have been unable to lock down leads with the game on the line.
It's a trend that dates back to their infamous collapse in Game 7 against Boston.
“A little bit of sometimes can be inexperience by us, but it's also the other team being desperate,” said Lupul. “Philly's a team in a desperate situation and they were making a lot of good plays.”
Timonen erased the first lead when he dipped in from the point untouched, Coburn vanquishing the second such deficit on a blast through traffic from the point.
“They go both ways sometimes and tonight we got it,” said Jake Gardiner, who scored in the first frame, “but I don't think we want to keep that path going.”
Waged in a heated playoff race, the danger in losing such leads are points left on the table and points otherwise given to competitors. And yet, in spite of the recent tightrope act the Leafs have managed to keep picking up points.
Now third in the Atlantic division with 76 on the year, they've taken points in 16 of the past 19 games (13-3-3).
1. Secondary Scoring
Toronto's top line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk entered the evening with 49 per cent of the team's goals in the 2014 calendar, but went rarely silent against the Flyers. Secondary contributions were found though from the likes of Kadri, Lupul, Gardiner and Mason Raymond, all four lines creating opportunities to score opposite Steve Mason, especially in an energetic first frame.
“I think that's what's going to have to be a key to our success as the season goes on because as good as our first line has been it would be asking a lot for them to sustain the pace that they've had these past 10, 15 games,” said Lupul. “We're going to have to step up.”
2. Bodie's Opportunity
Tim Leiweke, current President and CEO of MLSE, made a beeline for Troy Bodie in the Leafs dressing room after their narrow win against the Flyers. He was there to congratulate his son-in-law for another effective night at the office, one that saw him chip in with two assists in nearly 16 minutes of ice (just shy of a season-high).
“He's a big, hard-working, honest hockey player,” Carlyle said afterward of Bodie.
The 29-year-old has played in every game since being recalled from the Marlies in mid-January, an energetic presence in whatever opportunity he's been dealt. That was filling the skates of the injured David Clarkson on this night, Bodie occupying the right side on a line with Peter Holland and Mason Raymond.
“He's been a noticeable player for us for a while now,” Lupul said. “He's always getting a couple chances during the game, he finishes his checks and drives the net hard. For him to be a difference-maker tonight it's a nice reward for him, but he's been playing that way since the last time he got called up.”
Bodie was the driving force on goals from Gardiner and Raymond.
3. Power-Play Still Searching
Still nestled in amongst the top-10 in the NHL this season – now seventh-best – the Leaf power-play remained empty for the eighth consecutive game Saturday, 0-3 against the Flyers and now 0-18 in that eight-game span.
4. Bozak on the Draw
Though he's surged in point production this season – and especially in the past three months – Tyler Bozak has not, until very recently, been his usual productive self in the faceoff circle.
The low-point may have come in Colorado on Jan. 21.
Bozak was drubbed by Paul Stastny and the Avalanche that night, losing 20 of 29 draws. Since that point, however, he's simply sizzled, winning 55 per cent of his faceoffs during an 11-game stretch.
“He's back to the Bozie that we know in the faceoff circle,” said Carlyle.
Hovering right under 53 per cent in the past two seasons, the 27-year-old has inched up to 49 per cent this year with the recent hot streak, right on the outskirts of the NHL's top 30.
As hot as he's been lately though, Bozak actually struggled on the draw against the Flyers. He lost 13 of 23 faceoffs – mostly to Claude Giroux – and dropped a critical draw late in regulation, beaten by Brayden Schenn on the sequence that led to Coburn's game-tying goal.
Carlyle trotted out seven defenders for the sixth time in the past seven games, keeping Paul Ranger in the lineup as the rover on the back-end.
“We think that it does two things,” said Carlyle. “It gives our offensive players a little bit more ice-time. We try to spread Phil around a little bit more, try to get some more minutes for Clarkson and Lupul … And then it takes a little bit more load off of some our defencemen. If you get into a special teams game where you've got lots of power-play and penalty killing it chews some of the minutes there also.”
0-18 – Toronto power-play in the past eight games.
21 – Games missed this season by David Clarkson due to suspensions and injuries. Clarkson suffered a muscle pull (left leg) at practice Friday and did not play against the Flyers.
16 – Number of times in the past 19 games that the Leafs have registered at least a point.
1 – Multipoint nights this season for Troy Bodie, who had two assists against the Flyers.
8-4-0 – Leafs record when outshooting an opponent this season. They mustered 36 to 31 for the Flyers.
Special Teams Capsule
Season: 20.7% (7th)
Season: 77.9% (28th)
Quote of the Night
“We were able to regroup and that's a positive for us because a lot of times when the game gets away from you your team goes and continues to spiral. Well, we didn't spiral in my mind.”
-Randy Carlyle, on recovering from a blown third period lead.
The Leafs hit the road for a five-game trip, beginning Monday night when Randy Carlyle returns to Anaheim for the first time since he was fired by the Ducks.