Justin Shugg attempts to solve Jonathan Bernier in Thursday night action. The Carolina Hurricanes would go on to defeat the red-hot Maple Leafs 4-1.
Windsor - December 19, 2014 - December has been a month to remember for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as the Buds have managed to put together a stunning run of six consecutive victories, with the latest coming against the best team in the league, the Anaheim Ducks. Following the 6-2 demolition of the Ducks, the Leafs were poised to continue their success against the faltering Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, December 18th. This matchup would feature Roman Polak, the Leafs defender who has been missing-in-action for the past three weeks due to a knee injury.
Picking up in the middle of the first, Jonathan Bernier was tested with a handful of Carolina attempts after the Leafs failed to advance the biscuit out of their end. The situation proved to be harmless; however, following another poor defensive series in the Leafs' end, the Hurricanes lit the red light, with Chris Terry snapping the puck past the Leafs' tender via the 5–Hole express.
The first period was not pleasant for the Leafs. While Zach Boychuk served a two-minute minor, the Leafs failed to gain possession in the attacking zone, and after a Toronto giveaway, Carolina used a fast break to tally a shorthanded goal to make it 2-0 late in the first. Justin Faulk was credited with the second score, with Patrick Dwyer earning the assist. A lack of intensity is what led to the Leafs surrendering their fifth shorthanded goal of the season, a stat that is both concerning and dismal.
The Leafs managed to escape the first period with a mere two-goal deficit, but they failed to capitalize on two Carolina minors, and only managed nine (9) shots on goal, while the Hurricanes peppered Bernier with sixteen (16) attempts.
Following the first intermission, the Maple Leafs seemed adamant about maintaining their lackadaisical approach to competing with the Hurricanes. Aside from a few quick breaks by Kessel and Van Reimsdyk, the Leafs demonstrated their lack of ability to maintain any substantial possession in the attacking zone. In fact, at the times the Leafs looked lost, as players lost sight of the puck and failed to cycle the disk while on the attack.
A saving grace came by way of the Leafs’ penalty kill. The special teams unit, who previously killed 18 of 20 shorthanded situations, continued its success against the Hurricanes, as they went 2 for 2 on the penalty kill in the first two periods.
Late in the second, the Leafs began to battle back against a Carolina team that dominated the first thirty minutes of the game. Tyler Bozak sparked the offense with a hardnosed individual effort against Cam Ward that almost culminated in a goal. Shortly after, Stephen Robidas introduced a Carolina forward to the pain train after performing a huge body check that resulted in a Carolina turnover. With 3:05 left in the second, Leafs’ captain Dion Phaneuf was able to solve Cam Ward on a slapper from the slot after receiving a beautiful pass from forward Peter Holland. The tally marked Phaneuf’s twentieth (20th) point of the season. The Leafs would almost add an equalizer with just over a minute remaining, but unfortunately Mike Santorelli was unable to direct a Daniel Winnik pass into the back of the net.
Cam Ward had a highlight reel performance in the second, stopping multiple fast breaks, including a stellar save against Leafs’ leading scorer Phil Kessel. Toronto totaled 16 shots after two periods, while Bernier had another busy period stopping all twelve (12) Carolina attempts.
The third opened up with both teams pursuing another goal, as the Leafs and Hurricanes exchanged attempts in both ends. The Leafs earned a powerplay after Eric Staal participated in mischievous activity. Unfortunately, a Cody Franson penalty would negate the Leafs’ advantage. The forty-six seconds of 4 on 4 action saw multiple chances for the Leafs to equalize, but the ensuing man-advantage for the Hurricanes resulted in an insurance marker scored by Andrej Sekera. The Leafs continued to create opportunities to score, as Phaneuf and Bozak both had chances late in the period.
With over 2:30 left in the third, Carlyle called Bernier to the bench in order to send out an extra attacker. The Leafs applied ample pressure, but were unable to solve Ward. After breaking up a pass, Staal led an advance down ice towards the empty Leafs’ cage, which resulted in Elias Lindholm scoring the backbreaking empty netter.
As the final period came to an end, so did the Leafs’ six game winning streak. The Hurricanes were fortunate to end a streak of their own, as the win against Toronto marked their first victory in seven games.The Hurricanes won by a final score of 4-1, posting thirty-seven (37) total shots on goal compared to the Maple Leafs’ twenty-six (26) attempts.
The mind-numbing and ambiguous Leafs of the past made an appearance in this matchup, leaving fans wondering what happened to the 10-1-1 team that dominated opponents throughout December. The Leafs’ demise can be attributed to their poor effort in the face-off dot and lack of shots on goal. The Buds failed to defeat the Hurricanes for the fifth straight meeting in North Carolina. The Maple Leafs will look to bounce back in a matchup against a struggling Philadelphia Flyers team on Saturday, December 20th at the Air Canada Centre.