Holy mackinaw, that was an exciting game to watch and listen to (I was on my way home from a trip). For the first time this season, the Leafs win a game on Saturday and do so in style. Chicago played very aggressively in the third period and gave the ACC fans a scare (Playoff like atmosphere tonight, I may add). But James Reimer stood on his head and single-handedly won the third period for the Buds for the Leafs first 3 game winning streak of the year.

What happened?

It was Saturday night, and the weather outside felt like winter had arrived early. There was a sense that this would be an exciting night of hockey, since it was an Original 6 match-up. Following a beautiful anthem performance by cancer survivor Carly Allison, the game was on.

This match-up was highlighted by a few significant first for the Leafs. It was the first time JVR played against his younger brother, Trevor, in an NHL game with his family in the stands. Also, Sam Carrick was called up to play in his first NHL game following the loss of Lupul for 3 weeks. 

Chicago came into this game struggling to find consistency as they have not scored many goals, despite taking the most shots in the league. The game was intense early on as both teams battled hard for possession. It stayed even throughout the first, until Kadri tipped in a beautiful pass from Winnik to beat Crawford, who recently returned to the line-up from an injury.

The lead did not last long, however, as Richard scored his first as a Blackhawk on a Carrick penalty (poor guy) almost 2 minutes after the Kadri goal. It remained tied after the first and early on in the second as well. Then, on another powerplay, the Blackhawks got their first lead of the game on a Seabrook shot from the point.

JVR made sure the deficit was not long, though, as he pulled through and stole the puck away from a Chicago defenseman and streaked in to wire a shot past Crawford. It happened so quickly it really blew my mind watching it happen. The best part about it? It was just over a minute after being scored against.

Both teams exchanged chances as the period wore on. On of my highlights from that period was the play that Carrick made late in the period, where he stole the puck from a Blackhawk and strode into the offensive end. Then he passed the puck off the boards to himself and sped his way through to produce a great chance. What I love the most was that it turned into an offensive pressure from the fourth line that lasted for nearly 45 seconds (not bad at all). 

It remained tied after two, but the third is where things really got intense. It started with Holland's snipe from a Komarov pass that reminded me of a typical Stamkos shot. That made me and the fans excited and it gave the Leafs the lead again. However, Chicago really made the Leafs scramble once they got on the power-play again, as they fired shot after shot on Reimer who made acrobatic stops to keep the Leafs ahead. 

Things did not get better for the Leafs as Chicago pressed on to try and tie it up. There wasn't much the Leafs could do, with the Blackhawks being very aggressive on the puck (they are one of the best third period teams in the NHL). Reimer stood tall, the Leafs kept creating opportunities despite being hammered; one such case occurred when Kessel sped past two defensemen that almost lead to a Bozak goal (he was waiting for the one-timer).

With time winding down, the Blackhawks pulled their goalie and desperately tried to fill the basket. Large scrambles in front of Reimer were the subject of the last bit of the third, but he stood tall. Once Komarov swept the puck out to kill the clock and end the game, you knew who was the star of the game.

Despite being out shot 26-7 in the third period, the Leafs did a fantastic job of giving the Blackhawks top guns a tough time finding the net and getting quality chances. It was a fun game to watch and almost made me felt that it was spring and the Buds were in a playoff game. In all seriousness though, all credit goes to Reimer for his outstanding performance in the third.

Why win?

1) Reimer. Simply put, James Reimer stood on his head the whole game, but the third period was his best. He made acrobatic saves that prevented any chances; he has good control with his rebounds as well. To top it all off, he did not let his guard down even when he gave up two shots in the game and had to face 26 attempts in the third. There is no denying that Reimer is back into the shortened season form that got the Leafs into the playoffs, and games like this prove that 1A and 1B really works.

2) Kessel was not needed for goals. Praise the Lord, the Leafs finally won a game without needing their top offensive man to score. Though he did have an assists and looked dangerous all night long, it was the secondary scoring that helped the Leafs win. With Kadri, JVR, and Holland providing the goals, it proves just how much depth this team has offensively and that Kessel does not need to be constantly relied on. By finally winning a game without a Kessel goal, it should boost the confidence of everyone in the locker room to get more wins as a team.

3) Energy was not an issue. Though the Leafs played the night before in Columbus (and won 4-1), many would think that they would be short on energy heading into this one. But, that was not the case as the Leafs matched the high level of intensity that the Blackhawks poured on. Even in the third when they were outshot, the Buds still played with their heads held high and did not lose hope. It is good to see that they did so, despite looking like they blew a tire in the third. This was a good test for the Leafs and they aced it. This should prepare them for the mini road trip coming up.

What can be learned from this game

Listen, you could say that the Leafs are returning to their old habits and winning games while being outshot. Well, you would be wrong as the Blackhawks really played aggressively and fired shot after shot on Reimer. Yes, the 26-7 SOG in the third is a bit alarming, but Chicago takes the most shots on net in the league, and performances like this are to be expected from them. To their credit, the Leafs did well defensively to keep the puck out of the net by blocking shots, following the play and not the player, and not playing without a care.

One thing the Leafs can learn from is how they can improve their power-play. The Blackhawks are on of the best on the man advantage for one reason: they love to fire the puck on net. While the Leafs usually have a strong PP as well, it hasn't been effective so far. The reason for that is the fact that they take passes in hopes of finding the perfect opportunity (which rarely happens) and take no more than 2 shots per man advantage. If the Leafs can copy one thing from Chicago, it is that eagerness to fire the puck on net no matter where the placement is. That can go a long way in helping the Leafs this season.

Prediction Results

From late last night:
"As for tomorrow's game, I think the two teams will be playing some tight hockey throughout. There will be some goals scored in this one, but one of them will be on a penalty shot. Also, expect a young gun to score a goal."
While the game was close throughout and there were some goals scored throughout, none of them came off  of a penalty shot. However, while Holland is still considered a young gun at this point, his goal counts towards my prediction. So I am right again.

Prediction Score


Who's next?

The Leafs will hit the road for a short trip through the mid-west to take on the Coyotes and the Avalanche. The first game is on Tuesday in Arizona. followed by the Thursday match-up in Denver. One hopes that the performance against the Blackhawks will give the Leafs a good chance of getting some valuable points against two tough costumers.



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