As far as tonight’s game goes, there were a lot of outcomes that you could argue were most opportune. Somebody pro-tank would argue that a Leafs loss was best, as it would help the team stay near the bottom of the standings. Others wanted a win, hoping that it would ease Pittsburgh’s takeover of Montreal in the standings to restore the draft pick from the Phil Kessel trade to a 2016 1st rounder.
But an overtime loss? Nobody wanted that. Nobody expected that. A shootout provided that, throwing a wrench in a surprise Toronto comeback to give a 3-2 final score.
After the fantastic pre-game ceremony to honour Dave Keon, Turk Broda, and Tim Horton, it took the present Leafs a while to show up to this game, with their opponents outshooting them 14-3 in the opening twenty. More importantly, a few of those Montreal shots were successful; an over commitment to Brian Flynn left James Reimer unable to move into place to match a feed to David Desharnais just two minutes into the game, and with just as much time left in the period, a strong counter-attack gave Tomas Fleischmann an opportunity to score his 9th of the season before the Leafs could position themselves to shut him down.
The Leafs could have easily given up at this point, but that’s the team’s DNA, at least this year. Toronto got themselves back on the board midway through the third period by capitalizing on a quick breakout – Leo Komarov’s shovel up to a pinching Morgan Rielly set up an easy feed to Nazem Kadri, who made no mistake.
The two teams combined for just eleven shots in the slower paced second period, a trend which continued into the third. Some momentum had been lost by the team at that point, but with Reimer standing on his head, there was still plenty of room for them to keep pushing towards an equalizer. Four and a half minutes into final frame of regulation, they got it; Joffrey Lupul struggled to escape his zone with the puck, but Rielly snuck behind to offer support, moved it up to Peter Holland, who waited for Lupul to be ready for it once again, leading to a shot and a rebound for everybody’s favourite occasionally broken winger.
Once it was decided that regulation wouldn’t be enough, the two sides headed to 3-on-3 overtime. It was one of the more exciting goal-less overtimes I’ve seen in the league this year. The play rarely stayed in a single zone for more than a few seconds, and Reimer and Habs goalie Mike Condon were the only reasons the game didn’t end on several occasions over the five-minute stretch.
Peter Holland scored the lone goal in the shootout for Toronto, and until Montreal’s do-or-die moment. At that point, Max Pacioretty beat Reimer with a well-placed snipe and Lars Ellers followed with the dagger in the following round.
This was a game that the Leafs had to do a lot of clawing back in. If there weren’t as many implications at stake; Toronto’s pick, Pittsburgh’s playoff spot, the fanbase’s ability to make fun of the Habs, it would have been easy to point to this game as another “good job, good effort” scenario. In the immediate, though, it’s definitely not the result anybody wants; not the fans, not the players, not the staff.
If there’s any positive to be had out of this game, it’s another fantastic effort out of James Reimer. He was positionally sound at times, acrobatic at others, and did just enough to give his team a fighting hope at the times where they didn’t necessarily deserve it. 27 saves on 29 shots will surely help maintain his league-leading 0.937 save percentage.
Toronto’s next game is on Tuesday night, against the Florida Panthers. If Reimer starts again, he’ll be taking on a fellow top-performing goaltender in Roberto Luongo, as he tries to keep Jaromir Jagr and his half-aged friends away from victory. Puck drop is at 7:30 PM.