At the morning skate, head coach Randy Carlyle insisted Tuesday's poor effort against the Florida Panthers would not be soon forgotten, calling for a bounce back performance on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. After a similarly dubious start – failing to register a shot until the 9:50 mark of the first period – the Leafs turned things around, controlling much of the final 50 minutes en route to a 4-1 victory.
"Huge, big," said Jonathan Bernier on the importance of the win. "I thought we started slow a little bit but when we got that power play we got our legs and momentum back."
While the Leafs did not score on the power play late in the first period, it did shift the play into the Lightning end consistently for the first time after Toronto was on their heels in their own zone for much of the first ten minutes.
"Definitely," said Carlyle, agreeing that that was when the momentum turned. "We didn't have anything going for ourselves but then we hemmed them in their zone, we had the puck in their zone for probably a minute and a half. Didn't score on it but we created some momentum for ourselves and that's when we started to play."
The win brought the Leafs to within one point of the Lightning for second place in the Atlantic Division with one game remaining for each team prior to the Olympic break.
"Well outside of the first ten minutes, I thought we played a pretty solid game," said Carlyle. "We gave up some chances but we created some chances with our forecheck and we were opportunistic in the hockey game. We needed a response from our effort the other night and we got it tonight."
1) Shifting The Lines
For the second straight game, Carlyle experimented with his line combinations, this time right from the start. Dressing eleven forwards (only three centres) and seven defencemen, Carlyle found a recipe that yielded three dangerous lines throughout the game.
van Riemsdyk - Bozak - Kessel
Lupul - Kadri - Clarkson
Raymond - Kulemin - Bodie
McLaren - McClement
Gunnarsson - Phaneuf
Gardiner - Franson
Rielly - Gleason
Carlyle employed Jay McClement on the second and third lines in key defensive zone faceoff situations and cycled Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson through as the extra wingers on the fourth line. "We tried to create a little more balance," said Carlyle. "With Clarkson coming back into the line up, we felt we could move him up. Kulemin going to the middle allowed him to use his strength and ability to get on pucks. Bodie's been playing very well and we felt that we owed him more minutes and when you have Mason Raymond on that line, they can create things."
The experiment, which Carlyle indicated had been considered for a couple of days, paid off for the Leafs with each of the top three lines contributing a goal.
2) Gleason, Bernier Take Umbrage To JT Brown
With less than two minutes left, JT Brown drove to the net with the puck, running over Jonathan Bernier, creating a scrum behind the net after Bernier and then Gleason took offence. "It's a 4-1 game and there's a minute and a half left and you can see he's doing it on purpose to run into me," said Bernier. "I just didn't like that move."
"I guess he could pull up a little bit, didn't look like he was stopping anytime soon," added Gleason, who drew praise from Bernier for stepping in to defend him. The ruckus even drew Lightning netminder Cedrick Desjardins from his net but Bernier admitted he never had a notion to engage him.
"Yeah I saw him, but at this point in the season, you don't want to get hurt," said the Leafs goalie. "You have to make the right decision."
3) Paul Ranger Returns To Tampa
Paul Ranger had not played since January 7 against the New York Islanders – a span of 14 games – but drew back in against the Lightning when Randy Carlyle opted to dress seven defencemen. Making the return even more significant was the fact that it came in the building Ranger spent the first five years and 270 games of his NHL career before taking a three year sabbatical from the NHL.
"Heck yeah it does, a lot," Ranger said on TSN 1050 Radio at the first intermission when asked if his return to Tampa meant anything extra to him.
Ranger said he got the news that he would play just before the warm up, a gesture from Randy Carlyle that he sincerely appreciated. "I thanked (Carlyle) for letting me play in this game and giving me an opportunity to contribute," Ranger said after the game.
4) Gleason Gives His Dad a Show
Eleven years in the NHL has afforded Tim Gleason the opportunity to bring his dad Kevin on several team road trips. But they hadn't been fruitful trips until tonight. "Long story short, my Dad's been on about seven or eight of these ("Dad's trips") and we have yet to win one until tonight," said Gleason. "So I'm going to have a beer with my dad on the plane."
5) Gone Fishing
The Maple Leafs took advantage of their afternoon between games in the Sunshine State on Wednesday to embark on a fishing trip with their fathers organized by Paul Ranger, who became familiar with the sights in Tampa Bay during his five season spent with the Lightning. "I haven't done much fishing in my lifetime; I was kind of a newbie," said Nazem Kadri, who caught a small shark. "But it was fun, especially being out with the guys, pretty much the whole team went so it was good just to be surrounded with that environment and have some fun with it."
Accompanied on the trip by expert guides, Cody Franson explained that he enjoyed learning about some of the strategy behind successful fishing.
"Fishing with guides, it was pretty interesting to see the sport behind fishing," he said. "We go fishing back home and sometimes you go out for three or four hours and don't catch anything but these guys, it's a game for them and they know what they're doing out there."
Jake Gardiner, who grew up in Minnetonka, Minnesota, said his father John is far more of an experienced fisherman than he is, though he had some success of his own, with a couple of different bites. Holding onto them proved harder than catching them though. "I was surprised about how slimy those things were," Jake explained. "I dropped it once and could barely hold onto it the second time. It's not like fishing in Minnesota, they're a lot slimier here, I think they need that to survive."
9:50: Leafs register their first shot; made it 6-1 Lightning at the time
12-9: Shots after first period in favour of Leafs
36-34: Total shots in favour of Leafs
44-22: Faceoff wins in favour of the Lightning
3/14: Kulemin's night in the face off circle, centering Raymond and Bodie
12:52: Ice time for Ranger in his first action in 14 games
12:21: Ice time for Bodie
1: Power play opportunity for each team
14: Penalty minutes incurred by Tim Gleason, stepping in to defend Jonathan Bernier after the netminder was run over by JT Miller late in the third period
Quote of the Night:
"I'd rather a guy pull me out of the pile and do something instead of fill me knowing that I've got no hands. It is what it is; he's frustrated but at least pull me out of the pile and do it than throwing them from nowhere. We got two points so I could care less really." – Tim Gleason on Radko Gudas jumping into the scrum that developed after JT Brown ran over Jonathan Bernier
The Maple Leafs return home to Air Canada Centre to face the Vancouver Canucks at 6pm on Saturday night. The Canucks beat the Leafs 4-0 on November 2 in their previous meeting, the same game David Bolland went down with a severed tendon.