Shortly after Phil Kessel made the score 2-1 for Toronto, Craig Simpson (in his infinite wisdom) decided to call Kessel a “one shot scorer”. I’m not sure about that description. Kessel came into the game third in the NHL in shots on goal. His shooting percentage of 11.2% is not an eyebrow-raising distance from the mean.
Kessel scores goals, lots of goals, because he takes a lot of shots, and because he has an excellent shot, and he uses it, game after game after game. He also belongs to the Toronto Maple Leafs for eight more years, and he helped the Leafs beat the Vancouver Canucks for the first time since before the first lockout. When the Leafs last beat the Canucks, Kessel was playing with the United States’ national development program’s U-17 squad. Yes, it’s been a while. And the final was 3-1 for the Leafs.
For a while there, it looked like the Leafs were the anti-Leafs. They got up early in the shot count in the first period (they’ve been doing well in those lately) and drew some calls, but they ran into a pretty good goaltender in Roberto Luongo and wound up the period down 1-0 thanks to a pretty weak goal allowed by Jonathan Bernier.
Bernier though, was otherwise tight on the night, making some key stops around the net. Vancouver took a 1-0 lead into the third period, but the Canucks started to crack. While the Leafs were down 18-13 in overall shots on goal, counting misses and blocked shots, Toronto had a pretty decisive territorial advantage, and were down 1-0 on the night thanks to some bad luck—on a few rushes, the Canucks were able to get their stick on the puck first in their own slot, and the Leafs just weren’t getting pucks on their sticks in the prime scoring areas despite the play taking place in some dangerous spots in front of Roberto Luongo.
They struck. First, Mason Raymond, then Kessel in the aforementioned introduction, and then the American Olympian James van Riemsdyk bounced a puck past the Canadian Olympian Roberto Luongo by banking it off the face of the Swedish Olympian Alexander Edler.
The Canucks, as Vancouverites have noticed lately, are not good, and lack the gamebreaking ability to get back into games like this. They don’t lack “one shot scorers”. They lack a player like Phil Kessel.
WHY THE LEAFS WON
Playing an injured, bad, struggling team at the end of a long road trip certainly helps, and if the Leafs weren’t able to pull off this win, I think they may have never beaten the Canucks ever again. Despite being down 1-0 into the third, I didn’t get the impression the Leafs were in a rut, and were probably a couple of shifts away with some good bounces to put them up 2-0.
Sure, credit Tyler Bozak for his diving backcheck leading up to the Kessel goal (holy crap he got two assists on the night) but the offseason pickup I’m planning on eating the most crow on is Jonathan Bernier. Even though Toronto had a territorial advantage, Vancouver had their chances from the midway point of the first until the end of the second, and the only goal he allowed was a weird one off of either Jake Gardiner’s stick, Tim Gleason’s arm, or both (CBC’s best cameramen are already in Sochi so the backup camera crew had a great time trying to find the puck tonight).
Somebody’s going to chew me out in the comments if I don’t mention Phil Kessel’s tone-setting fight against Alex Burrows (?) to rally his troops before the start of the third period. (To be fair, I was down getting the pizza when the fight occurred. I’m going off rumour and hearsay and boxscores here)
I’m not sure if fights can influence how the puck bounces, but, sure, why not. The Maple Leafs have made me believe in a lot of illogical things this year with their recent play, so I’m not willing to count anything out.
Now we have the Olympic break. The Canucks took out another Leafs checking centreman in another incidental collision in Jay McClement. It looked like he smashed his head on the ice, and to the Leafs credit, they took him out of the lineup. However, it probably won’t be too serious, and he gets a lot of time to heal himself up, even if Team Canada will miss McClement’s services over in Sochi.