The Toronto Maple Leafs ended their mini three game losing streak and avoided losing four consecutive games for the first time since 2010, as they soundly defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-1 at the Air Canada Centre. Nazem Kadri converted a Joffrey Lupul pass less than a minute into the game, and the Leafs didn’t look back. The goal was 4th in his 15th game this season. Considering Kadri was a healthy scratch Tuesday night against Ottawa, the Leafs’ top prospect started the game with an edge. The new scrambled forward units instantly paid off as Toronto received a goal from every line tonight. I know Kessel scored on the PP and not with his linemates, but they won. Relax. Joey Crabb put the Leafs ahead 2-0 as he scored a beauty of a goal flying by the Wild defenseman before sliding it past a helpless Nicklas Backstrom. Crabb’s celebration was delayed as the puck slid right through the bottom of the net, yet it was quickly deemed a good goal.
Much like the game against the Winnipeg Jets a couple of weeks ago the Leafs won soundly and seemed to return back to the form that has seen them be successful this season, but was tonight’s result indicative of the Leafs being good, or the Wild being bad? Minnesota is now 2-11-4 in their last 17 games and have scored only 11 goals in their last 11 road games. The Wild were a complete non-factor for the entire game, and looked to be disinterested and unengaged on the night. Give the Leafs credit though, Phil Kessel scored his team leading 25th goal on the power play shortly after a two man advantage ended. Kessel scored his first goal in four games as he was a complete buzzsaw in the middle frame, he ended the game with 5 shots on net. Mikhail Grabovski had a Lupul pass bank in off of his skates early in the third period as the red hot Grabo continues his streak of late. Lupul’s assist was his third of the night, as he approaches his career of 53 points (Lupul now has 51 this season).
Toronto outshot the Wild 33-21, and continued their improved play on the penalty kill going 1-1 on the night. The Leafs have now killed off 11 straight penalties in the last 8 games. In fact they have yet to surrender a power play goal in 2012, a great sign going forward. Jonas Gustavsson was strong on the night and was unlucky to lose his shutout on a weak goal from Nick Johnson that went in with less than two and half minutes remaining in the game. The shutout would have been Gustavsson’s third in the his last 7 games, as he has seemingly successfully wrestled the #1 goaltenders role away from James Reimer. The Monster was solid when he needed to be, and made the game look easy.
It was a good victory and the Leafs can only win the games that are on their schedule, so they deserve full credit for the two points tonight. With this win Toronto moves one point behind the idle Florida Panthers for the 8th and final playoff spot. Tonight’s victory will only be seen as a step forward if they can continue their strong play Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Joffrey Lupul – The Leafs MVP to this point this season again put the team on his shoulders as his three assists led the way tonight. He set the tone on his first shift by setting up Kadri for the opener, and he looked to develop chemistry with Kadri and Connolly as the game wore on.
Wild: Matt Cullen – Honestly he was the only player on the Wild team that stood out at all. It really isn’t saying much because Cullen wasn’t a factor in the game, but I had to pick someone. The Wild may be the worst team I’ve seen the Leafs play this season.
Next Game: The Leafs will host the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.