Leafs Conquer Kings’ Court
In the 1970’s a trip to California was all but free points for most NHL teams.
The Los Angeles Kings and California Golden Seals were still fledgling franchises, and about as competitive as an AHL team would be in the NHL today. However the times, they have changed. Just a little bit. Death Valley, as California is now known, is about the last place teams want to be. Especially if they’re coming from the east coast. The Ducks sit first in the Pacific division, the Sharks second, and the Kings third. Stiff competition to say the least. The last game of these games is undoubtedly the toughest, as not only was this the Leafs’ 3rd game in 4 nights, but they were matched up against the league’s hottest team with LA on an 8 game winning streak.
Things started off badly for the Buds. Very badly. Notable Leaf killer Marian Gaborik had a rebound go in off his skate just two minutes in. Phaneuf was covering Gaborik at the time, but failed to get a stick on the puck. It went from bad to worse for the Blue and White, as they failed to capitalize on a pair of powerplays before Gleason was caught on an undisciplined interference penalty. The Kings took full advantage of the extra man as Kopitar banged home his 21st of the year to put LA up by 2. However Toronto struck back after the Kings took their third minor penalty of the period. Early in the PP, Dion Phaneuf took a pass and found himself with an inordinate amount of time and space. He walked in and showed some surprisingly nice mitts by pulling the puck backhand at the last second and beating Jonathan Quick. At the end of 2, the Kings led by 1, despite the Leafs’ 15-10 lead in shots.
Toronto wasted no time tying things up in the second. Just four minutes in, Carl Gunnarsson’s point shot was deflected past Quick to even the score. It was Gunnarsson’s second goal of the year and only his 14th in a five year NHL career. That did it for the scoring in the second frame. However, the most notable event of the period was the absence of Jonathan Bernier. The young goalie started the period in the dressing room, before eventually taking a spot at the end of the bench. It was a reported lower body injury, but no other details were made available. Reimer was stellar in relief as he made several tough saves to preserve the tie. A scary moment came for the Blue and White when Jarrett Stoll collided hard with Reimer, who stayed down for almost a minute. Optimus Reim was able to shake it off however, and despite appearing slightly woozy, remained perfect in to the 3rd.
The game’s intensity ratcheted up in the final frame. Reimer made save after save, at one point robbing Kopitar point blank with a split save. It took a Tyler Bozak hooking penalty to break the deadlock. The Kings set up quickly on the powerplay, but collapsed in on the Leafs net after the puck squirted loose in the crease. LA failed to score, and the shot attempt rattled around the boards, springing Raymond and van Riemsdyk on a two on one. Raymond skated the puck in to the zone, never really looking at JVR, and ripped a slap shot in to a tiny opening over Quick’s shoulder. LA came hard on the counter attack, carrying most of the play for the remainder of the period. However, they could not solve James Reimer. He stayed perfect, Nik Kulemin missed an easy empty-netter, and the game ended with a 3-2 score.
Toronto took 4 of a possible 6 points from their trip to California. The Kings were handed their first loss since February 3rd. Despite the win, Phil Kessel was held pointless for a second consecutive game. This marks the first time Kessel’s been held of the scoresheet in back to back games since early January. Toronto’s next game is in Washington on Sunday afternoon.