A perfect 4-0 against this rambunctious Atlanta expansion franchise eager to make its first playoff appearance, quite simply the Leafs have the Thrashers' number. It has been by far the best series the Leafs have had this year outside of the Northeast division. 9-1
, and now a 4-1
win. The much maligned Toronto defense has allowed Atlanta 3 goals in four games, which is superb against a team accustomed to scoring
more than 3 goals a game. 22 goals for ain't too shabby neither.
And though last night's game was an above average display of team defense, keeping the game tied at love-love beyond the midway point, and for the second game in a row the Leafs took a Poni ride into the lead, and Belfour was "in the groove" with one save in particular of the jaw-dropping variety, I was more impressed with how the Leafs reacted under the pressure and physical abuse. I think Sundin was impressed too.
McCabe coming back from Aubin's bush league hit from behind showed resilience, and the team not running around the ice looking for revenge showed smarts. The captain was beaming after the first goal. "Could this be a reliable even strength secondary scoring option?" he thought. Then Sundin took a shoulder to the jaw from the coward Exleby, who apparently will play dirty but won't take his gloves off ever since getting his ass beat in a fight. Kilger stepping up to protect Sundin was a breath of fresh air. The Leafs didn't lose control and throw the game away on 'pride' (read idiotic) penalties (read - recurring theme). The Leafs kept their composure and continued with the game plan and executed. Shit, the Leafs even scored three even strength goals. They haven't done that, not including the empty netter against NJ over the weekend, since beating the Pens in OT (and is an OT 4-on-4 goal really even strength?) or more precisely since the 12/31/05 defeat of the Devils.
Steen was the only multi-pointer on the night; he was skating well, shooting when he could, and generally playing positive hockey. Allison played a great game, even re-gaining the puck with some hustle across the zone, with the highlight of leveling a Thrasher right next to the benches. But the real stand out performance last night for me was Wellwood. He was really moving on the ice in both directions. Midway through the second with the game tied, Wellwood had a backcheck swoop to break up a pass to Savard entering the zone that was unreal. It looked like Kyle cheated and moved two spaces on the game board, because he dove past the closest Thrasher and intercepted the pass to Savard along the boards. His goal was a rebound batted in from about two feet up in the air from in close. It seemed almost unfair for anybody playing against Wellwood. Last night's performance may have started the process to convince me that he can amp up his game and play like a star in this league. My girlfriend called him "feisty." I would have to agree.
As for the young D trio, Harrison got embarrassingly bodied by Kovalchuk in the corner. Wozniewski was caught flat-footed badly on a rush. Kronvall collected his first career point, and was deep for a dangerous chance on net. Overall they all played a pretty solid game in all three zones. Definitely no complaints.
Next up, a home and home with the Atlantic Division leading, and not subject to the 'number of games played, the Flyers are really leading' axiom, New York Rangers. If the Leafs can remain composed and stay out of the box, they might be able to take the majority of the points up for grabs.