Coach Randy Carlyle, who sounded a beleaguered note before the game – the Leafs have been bombarded with lessons on how to play better defence, but “the teacher’s getting tired” – as befits a man whose team is underperforming.
“We had a one-goal lead and we took three straight penalties . . . in that situation, you take the point and move on. Things didn’t go for us the way we would have liked them to have gone in the hockey game but we played a lot better tonight than we did in Long Island,” he said. “We ground, we got a lead, we were down 2-0 and came back from it, we found ways to create offence and I thought that we had the majority of the puck time probably from the second period on. So there were a lot of positives in the game. It’s disappointing that we lost and disappointing that the calls that went against us are ones that are somewhat unusual.”
Carlyle will lament the fact they weren’t able to make up ground on the Habs, who have ridden their luck to five of a possible six points this week, but there’s no benefit to dwelling on it.
“We’re .500 on the road (0-0-2 since the Olympic break), which in this situation isn’t great, we’d have like to have won both hockey games in our minds. But this is the way it goes and we’ll regroup and practice for tomorrow and get ready for Columbus,” he said.
The opening stages of the game were a choppy, intermittent mess – nine whistles in the first three minutes – but there was one signal moment that looked like foreshadowing of a rambunctious, hard-fought contest: David Clarskon rammed Subban into the boards on the second shift of the game.
It was, although it would take until the third period for it to be apparent to those who stuck it out through a turgid second period.
After a slow start, the Habs started dominating possession – a rarity of late – and duly got on the board after a shift where they buzzed around the Toronto end for the better part of a minute.
Subban shimmied around Joffrey Lupul – all he could do was fall to the ice – to keep the puck in the Toronto end, three passes later Alex Galchenyuk’s spinorama forehand from the slot ticked off Morgan Rielly’s stick and past Bernier’s blocker.
Moments later the Habs were up 2-0.
Again it was the result of sustained pressure – this time involving some sharp interplay between Subban and David Desharnais – and this time it was Pacioretty’s turn to send a spinning shot (a backhand) past a screened Bernier.
The goal seemed to wake up the Maple Leafs, who contrived to go 14:38 before logging their first official shot on goal.
That it came from McClement and not from big guns like Phil Kessel or van Riemsdyk speaks volumes.
Once the seal was broken, however, the Leafs started peppering Peter Budaj in the Montreal net, firing six shots in just over two-and-a-half minutes.
One of them, a nifty tip by van Riemsdyk at the side of the net, slithered through Budaj’s legs.
If the Slovak netminder, filling in for the injured Carey Price, wasn’t at his sharpest on the sequence, he more than made up for it in the third period (the less said about the turgid second, the better).
With the Leafs on an early power play – Brière having been whistled for goaltender interference – van Riesmdyk made a sweet between-the-legs back-door feed to Kessel, but Budaj stuck out his right pad to take away a sure goal.
It was one of many wide-open chances for Kessel on the night, he whiffed on at least two opportunities with the net gaping.
The Leafs would tie the game 5:28 minutes into the final period when Markov sent a diagonal pass to no one in particular and van Riemsdyk outraced Subban to slip a shot between Budaj’s legs.