If Nazem Kadri is going to be the spark the Toronto Maple Leafs offence needs, it will have to wait until the Leafs see some easier opponents next week like the Nashville Predators or New Jersey Devils.
The Vancouver Canucks were just a little too much for the Leafs on Saturday, although the home side gave it a good try. But Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo stood firm when it mattered, in the third period, and Leafs goaltender J.S. Giguere did not.
Giguere coughed up a soft goal to Mason Raymond late in the third period, which made the difference in a 5-3 win. Dan Hamhuis added an empty-net goal in the final minute for the Canucks to run the Leafs' losing streak to eight games.
"It was a little sloppy but we worked hard and found a way to win," said Canucks forward Ryan Kesler, the team's best skater on the evening who finished with two goals. "Obviously, [Luongo]would like a couple of those goals back but he came back and battled for us late in the game."
Luongo was a little more unlucky than uneven in the early going. But when the Leafs came hard in the third period, outshooting the Canucks 16-5, he was terrific.
"It was a good finish," Luongo said. "It was kind of a weird third period but we found a way to win, which is the sign of a good team."
The Canucks have eight wins in their last nine games. It also left them 2-1 so far on their five-game Eastern Conference road swing. They play the Sabres in Buffalo on Monday night.
Toronto has been a friendly place for the Canucks in recent years, and that does not mean just the large number of Vancouver fans who turn up at the Air Canada Centre. The Canucks have not lost at the ACC since Nov. 24, 2003.
Raymond's goal was a tough way for the struggling Leafs to lose. His shot from the blue line squirted through Giguere with 6:24 left in the third period.
"The third period was the best period we've played in two or three weeks," Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said. "The winning goal was not great. [Giguere] was great all night but we needed a stop there."
Giguere said "those things happen but I'm not going to lose sleep over it." The goaltender, who criticized his teammates last week for a poor effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning, said their performance against the Canucks was encouraging.
"We were hungry for the puck," Giguere said. "We were winning battles, we were using our speed. I really liked our effort."
The Canucks and Leafs put on one of the most entertaining first periods of hockey seen at the Air Canada Centre in a long time, thanks to the Leafs' recent wobbles. They traded scoring chances with the Leafs taking a 2-0 lead thanks to a little luck and a little opportunism.
Fredrik Sjostrom had the luck, as his behind-the-back deflection found a space between Luongo' pads at 4:12 of the first period. It was Sjostrom's first goal since April 1, a span of 20 games.
The Leafs warmed up the crowd of 19,534 a few minutes later when Phil Kessel broke a seven-game scoring slump to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead. Not only that, it was a power-play goal, coming when the Canucks left him alone in front of the net. That broke a three-game scoring drought for the Leaf power play (0-for-12).
However, as one of the best teams in the Western Conference it was unlikely the Canucks were going to leave with a whimper. Especially against a team that has as much trouble hanging on to a lead as the Leafs.
The Canucks, led by Kesler, tied the game before the first period was over. First, Daniel Sedin scored his 11th goal of the season on a power play when the Leafs gave him several whacks at a rebound. Then Kesler tied the score at 17:01 with his first goal of the night when he ripped a shot to the top corner.
Kesler scored again in the first minute of the second period on another power play (the Canucks have the second-best power play in the league) and it looked like another Leaf collapse was in the making. But they found their skating legs again and Mikhail Grabovski beat Luongo with a long snapshot at 11:44 to send the game to the third period tied 3-3.
All of the talk before the game was about the promotion of Leaf prospect Nazem Kadri, a sure sign Leaf management was getting antsy about all the noise from the fans about the Leafs' seven-game losing streak. Bringing him up against a fast team like the Canucks, who can also play a physical game did not bode well for Kadri, who had a fairly quiet night aside from a couple of decent plays with the puck in the offensive zone.
Kadri's best chance to make a difference came in the third period when he had the puck on a three-on-one rush. But the puck hopped over his stick to end the threat.
Actually, the more noticeable player was the fellow who was called up along with Kadri, 21-year-old Keith Aulie. The 6-foot-5 defenceman did not look out of place and made some smart defensive plays while working with veteran Brett Ledba.
"I thought the young guys played very well," Wilson said of Kadri and Aulie. "[Kadri]had a few turnovers but he was trying to be creative."