Leafs Win 3-2 in OT, Can’t We Just Enjoy The Ride?

The Toronto Maple Leafs overcame a 2-1 deficit heading into the third period and defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in overtime on a goal by Mikhail Grabovski.  Grabovski’s goal was set up by an end to end rush by Dion Phaneuf.  Instead of just dumping the puck deep or sending it behind the net, Phaneuf waited as he saw a line change occurring and passed the puck to an incoming Carl Gunnarsson who moved it quickly to Phil Kessel.  Kessel in one motion passed it over to Grabovski, who just came onto the ice, and put it by Marc-Andre Fleury.  It was the type of tic-tac-toe passing play that we have not seen in a long time by a group of Leaf players.

James Reimer was solid in goal for the Leafs as the Penguins had a substantial edge in shots on goal.  Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin had the other Leaf goals and Carl Gunnarsson had two assists.  The win moved the Leafs four points behind 8th place Carolina, who play Buffalo tonight.

Being a realist, I know that the Leafs must continue to play at this level in order to have a chance to make the playoffs.  Of course, if you listen to Mike Milbury they have no chance.  Milbury may be right.  But what I don’t understand is the constant harping on the part of some that this is just typical Maple Leafs:  Doing great after the All-Star break when the games are meaningless.

As I stated in an earlier post, a good portion of this team has not been in this situation before:  playing important games down a stretch run.  James Reimer is not J.S. Aubin or Andrew Raycroft or Vesa Toskala.  This is a young 20 year old who has the potential to be the Leafs goalie of the future.  This experience can only help his growth process.  Keith Aulie, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson are learning what it takes to perform in pressure situations as Ron Wilson continues to put them out there in penalty kill situations and at critical points in a game.  Last night, Aulie was out their with Phaneuf in the last minute of regulation.  These are all young 20-somethings, not Kaberle, Beauchimen, Finger or Hal Gill.  And when you look at the forwards, Kulemin, Grabovski, Bozak, Kessel, MacArthur are learning what it takes and what their leading roles need to be in order to keep a team in the playoff hunt.  This isn’t Allison, Ponikarovsky, Antropov, Blake, Hagman, O’Neill, Johnny Pohl, Yanic Perreault, and Boyd Devereaux.

While the playoffs would be nice, and there is no one who would want to see that more than me, what’s more important is seeing these young players grow and learning what it takes to win.  Yesterday’s game was not a great one.  The first two periods the Leafs only managed 9 shots and were fortunate to be down only 2-1.  But they fought back in the third and won it in overtime.  That’s part of the learning process: winning when you are not playing well.  Yes, I know that Crosby and Malkin weren’t there.  But the Penguins have 80 points and have a winning record since the two superstars have been out.

This team is one of the youngest, if not the youngest teams in the league.  If someone told you in November that they would be four points out of 8th with 18 games left without Kaberle, Beuchemin and Versteeg and a 20 year old in the net by the name of Reimer  everyone would have been surprised and somewhat happy.  This season is about building for next year and the one after that.  The criticism in the past has been that this team is old and the farm system is barren.  Well, their not old now and the farm system has young talent with Colborne, Kadri, Blacker, McKegg, Scrivens, Rynnas, etc. 

Next assignment is tonight against the Flyers in Philadelphia.  Will learn more about this group tonight.  Enjoy it!!!!


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