TORONTO – The big, bad bully was finally defeated – albeit barely.
It took a mighty effort from James Reimer, a boatload of blocked shots and a few timely goals as the Leafs edged the Bruins for the first time in nearly two years.
“So it's been a while,” Cody Franson grinned after the successful opener of a home and home set with Boston. “They've got a good team, they're tough to beat.” With a scant 13 shots in victory on Saturday evening, the Leafs were aided greatly by an effective 31-save performance from Reimer along with a hearty 31 blocked shots – much of the action toward the perimeter over the final two periods. Not since March 31st, 2011 had they beaten their Beantown tormentor, a thorough and often one-sided string of eight consecutive defeats which saw them outscored by a wide 41-12 margin, most of the damage landing last year.
“It is maybe a little bit sweeter,” Reimer said of topping the Bruins, who had swept the season series a year ago. “But last year is last year. They owned us last year, there's no ifs, ands or buts about it. But that was last year. There's a lot of things that have changed. We're a totally different team. And I think this year we've battled them hard.”
An incredibly defensive, almost prevent-like effort, the Leafs rarely sustained pressure in the Bruins end and were badly outshot – they lead the league with 13 wins when outshot this season – but managed to find a pinch of firepower from the sizzling Nazem Kadri (now 14 this season), the quiet until recently Mikhail Grabovski (goals in two straight games) and the unlikely Frazer McLaren, who potted the eventual game-winner, thus ending Anton Khudobin's night.
“We were opportunistic and we got some timely goals,” said Randy Carlyle, stressing a businesslike approach to his team afterward, also noting the stingy effort of Reimer.
Snapping their long string of futility against the Bruins – while also losing John-Michael Liles to injury – the Leafs are also quietly leaving behind a recent six-game winless skid, now with points in four consecutive (2-0-2) games. They remain sixth in the Eastern Conference – a point up on the Devils and five up on the Rangers and Hurricanes (two games in hand) – with another battle awaiting in Boston on Monday.
“It's just one win,” Reimer concluded. “We can't be blowing it out of proportion like we're winning the Stanley Cup here. We played a good game against a good team and we won.”
1. Reimer's big night
“That game could've changed around easily without him back there tonight,” Franson said of Reimer. “We played a lot of defence and he was a big part in us getting the win.” Reimer improved to 11-4-3 with Saturday's victory, now with a .917 save percentage this season.
“We just felt he was going to give us the best chance for success,” Carlyle said of doling out a third consecutive start to the 25-year-old. Carlyle had been rotating between Reimer and Ben Scrivens until recently, searching for a clear-cut answer in goal as the stretch run intensifies. An effort like Saturday will help Reimer's cause.
“One of the things that we're asking our goaltenders is to stand tall for us,” Carlyle continued, “and I thought James Reimer played very well for our hockey club and he gave us a chance tonight.”
2. More Kadri
Kadri has now scored 14 goals on 71 shots for the 13th best shooting percentage in the NHL (19.7%). The 22-year-old took a pass from Clarke MacArthur and beat Khudobin over the left shoulder, giving the Leafs a 1-0 early in the opening frame. “It's not about them going in every night too,” MacArthur told TSN.ca before the game, “it's the amount of chances he's getting every game. You get that many chances whether they go in or not, you're being effective and you're doing what you're supposed to do.” Now with 34 points on the year, Kadri extended his point streak to four games, totaling three goals and six assists in that span.
3. Liles' injury
The left leg of the 32-year-old collided awkwardly with Daniel Paille along the boards midway through the second frame. After he tried repeatedly to get up, Liles finally made it back to the bench before departing immediately to the Toronto dressing room. Writhing in pain and with assistance from Leafs trainer Marty Dudgeon, Liles limped badly as he sought medical attention, but as Carlyle noted afterward, the x-rays were negative on the unspecified lower-body injury, describing it as more of a “sprain” than break.
After a string of 12 consecutive games as a healthy scratch, Liles had only recently re-entered the lineup, playing in his fifth straight game on Saturday. The Leafs have Mike Kostka available if the injury is to keep Liles out for any period of time, which seems likely.
4. Quiet since return
Matt Frattin tallied seven goals and 10 points in his first 10 games before going down with a left knee injury in mid-February. Since his return to the lineup on March 9th, Frattin has yet to score and has just two assists.
“I thought Matt Frattin in the last game was more of the Matt Frattin that we need,” Randy Carlyle said of Frattin's effort in a 5-4 shootout loss to Buffalo. “He was on the body more consistently, he was around the puck and he was involved in the game. And as I've stated before if Matt Frattin's not physical, not hitting, he's not effective. And we need more of that effective play from Matt Frattin.”
The 25-year-old did notch an assist against the Bruins, leading the Leafs with three shots in about 15 minutes of ice-time.
5. Suspension confusion
Joffrey Lupul served the final game of his two-game suspension on Saturday, penalized for his blindside hit on Tampa defender Victor Hedman earlier this week. Lupul did express confusion with the suspension process after Rangers winger Rick Nash escaped punishment for his collision with Florida's Tomas Kopecky.
“When I look at it two days after and I'm still not sure what constitutes a suspension I don't think the process is working,” Lupul said, stressing that his suspension was deserved. “I don't want it to seem like I'm campaigning for Rick Nash to get a suspension. It doesn't matter to me. He's a good player, a good guy, I don't want him to get a suspension. I suppose what I'm saying is I'm just confused as to how they come to mine [at] two games and some of the other ones two [games] and then some nothing.”
The 29-year-old said he received phone calls and text messages from different people around the league, each “asking me how this even makes sense”.
Quote of the Night
“It's just one win. We can't be blowing it out of proportion like we're winning the Stanley Cup here. We played a good game against a good team and we won.”
-James Reimer on the Leafs long-awaited win over Boston.
The Leafs surrendered a stream of high-quality opportunities in the opening period, but as the shot chart indicates most came from the perimeter over the final two frames.
13: Wins for the Leafs when outshot this season, most in the NHL. 31: Blocked shots for the Leafs. 5: Blocked shots for Franson, tied for the team lead. 5: Blocked shots for Mark Fraser, tied with Franson for the team lead.
19.7%: Shooting percentage for Kadri this season, good for 13th best in the NHL. 25-5-5: Bruins record against the Leafs in 35 games prior to Saturday.
3: Goals for James van Riemsdyk in the past 14 games. van Riemsdyk had 11 markers in the first 18 games.
4-4-0: Career record for James Reimer against the Bruins.
1-8: Kadri on the draw against the Bruins, the best faceoff team in the NHL.
80: Attempted shots for Boston, 33 hitting the net, 31 blocked and 16 missing entirely.
20:49: Mark Fraser, a season-high.
The Leafs conclude their home and home set (and season series) with the Bruins, visiting TD Garden in Boston on Monday evening.