Reading through the game notes, a few things immediately struck my eye. First, with Ben Bishop, Ryan Callahan, Cedric Paquette, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, and Vladislav Namestnikov out with injuries, the Bolts have lost a little over one player’s whole season (87 games) of man hours.
Despite that, and despite the team’s overtime loss to the Leafs tonight, the team is clinging valiantly to 4th place. During the anthem, as the camera panned past Brian Boyle’s face and he huffed out a tired breath, his expression made it clear that this has been a hard, hard season for the players as well as the fans.
Last night’s game was an emotional high. My question going into the game was, would the Bolts be able to get their energy harnessed enough for a battle for the third playoff spot? When we learned that Toronto Marlie call-up Antoine Bibeau would get his second-ever NHL start, I felt hope. Depleted and exhausted, perhaps the Bolts could win against a new goalie.
They did not, but they did manage to earn a point on the second night of a back-to-back, and nobody else got hurt. Maybe. Hopefully.
Both teams initially looked evenly matched, tired legs against tired legs (the Leafs won last night in Sunrise), but the Leafs carried out Mike Babcock’s usual obstructive brand of hockey and stopped every attempt to carry pucks across their blue line. The first half of the period, they drove possession inexorably toward Vasy’s net.
Bolts were only able to get their first shot on goal on the powerplay six minutes in, when Mitch Marner served a bench penalty for too many men on the ice. Bolts managed two shots on goal during the power play, including one from Jonathan Drouin that rang off the pipes with a building-deafening PING.
Tired teams take penalties, and at the 9:25 mark, Boyle was handed two minutes for holding. Leafs doubled their shots during the Bolts’ penalty kill, giving Vasy cause to make two enormous saves, both through traffic. At the end of the kill, Nikita Zaitsev was also given two minutes for holding, and Bibeau was forced to save a Bolts one-timer from his left circle. That was nearly all the action that the powerplay saw — especially when Auston Matthews’ linemate Zach Hyman got a shorthanded breakaway during the powerplay. (This wouldn’t be Hyman’s only shorthanded breakaway.)
Vasy’s stick work has been looking increasingly confident. After defending Hyman’s breakaway, he helped pass the puck to a free Tyler Johnson to advance the powerplay again.
At 14:45, Bolts gave up the almost inevitable first goal of the game to Auston Matthews, whose legs were not worn out last night, apparently. The Triplets were on the ice for the goal, and managed to get completely outplayed by Matthews. Darn that guy, it was his 18th goal of the year.
At 16:49, Nazem Kadri got penalized for an obvious slash, but the Leafs’ penalty kill was once again as good as the numbers indicate (82%), with Hyman getting yet another shorthanded breakaway. Vasilevskiy was able to see and stop him from miles away, but the energy on the ice definitely wasn’t in the Bolts’ favor. With a second left in the first, Andrej Sustr was called for interference, and the Leafs got to start the second period on a powerplay.
Shots at the end of the first were 8-12.
The second started with Bolts on the kill. Leafs made nothing of their chance, but not long after, Anton Stralman fell prey to Babcock’s ability to get his team to draw penalties and took a hooking penalty three minutes in. Leafs barely got a shot on goal during that one, and as if the two powerplays wore them out, they actually allowed Bolts some zone time. Bibeau made another decent save on Brian Boyle, but nobody was around to help with the rebound.
Near the halfway mark of the period, the Leafs managed to pull themselves together, and on the Leafs’ 17th shot of the night, the Tyler Bozak - James van Reimsdyk - Nikita Zaitsev line got their second goal past Vasy. In this case, Bozak managed to pot in his own rebound.
Brian Boyle answered at the 12:12 mark, finally making Bibeau look human. Sustr passed the puck to Drouin to skate it into the zone, and Drouin found an open Boyle on Bibeau’s left side. He sent it through traffic above Bibeau’s left shoulder. Drouin’s deke around the Leaf defender was extremely pretty.
At the 13:28 mark, Zaitsev garnered another two minutes for holding, and who else but Zach Hyman got another shorthanded breakaway during the penalty. Bolts’ powerplay, which is third-best in the league, when matched up against the seventh-best penalty kill in the league, looked weak once again.
But Bolts pulled even at 17:38. After more sustained zone time, Palat checked Connor Carrick into the boards behind Bibeau’s net, turning the puck over to Kucherov in front of the net. Johnson took care of Carrick before he could defend with another hipcheck, and Kucherov gave the puck to Palat for the goal.
The penalties continued. Coburn took another penalty for hooking at 18:31, and the Bolts had two shorthanded chances during the rather terrible Leafs’ powerplay. Filppula nearly had a shot attempt, but something weird was happening with the ice, or maybe with Filppula’s concentration, and the puck bounced over his stick. He skated off the ice staring up at the stands as if his mind was still on yesterday’s healthy scratch. Needless to say, Bolts killed that one.
The second ended with shots 16-22, Leafs.
Momentum turned toward the Leafs again in the third, with Vasy making several saves around his net as Leafs drove Bolts out of neutral and their shots mounted. And then, the thing happened that nobody wanted to see:
But then, luckily,
Will this end up being news of Killorn getting unhealthily scratched on Saturday against Carolina? The way things are going, we’ll be looking out for news.
At 14:49, the Triplets finally managed to break into the offensive zone, only to end the play with another loud PING from Palat.
The ice looked rough at the end of the third, so rough that even Drouin couldn’t skate on it, and the puck did really odd things. Clambering up from a fall near Bibeau’s net, Drouin managed to corral the puck again, but was tripped by a shove from Hyman while skating in front of the net. Bolts spent most of the rest of regulation on the powerplay. Bibeau somehow managed to save several Bolts shots, once again looking confident and solid for his second-ever game, and Toronto managed to kill it.
In the last minute of play, the building was quiet with nerves (Leafs and Bolts fans alike), and Vasy held the Bolts in by sheer elasticity and willpower. With shots 27-32, Leafs, we went into...
Overtime started in an exhilarating way with Matthews and Drouin skating so closely to each other it looked like ice dancing. Team North America reunion! But then Filppula’s lack of focus came into play again. He pushed Bibeau into the net and was called for goalie interference. With the man advantage, Kadri managed to get the puck past Vasy for the win.
After the game, Coach Jon Cooper pointed out that there was little reason for Filppula to run into the goalie unless he was pushed himself, and that it was “tough to swallow” the powerplay that came from it. Despite that, Bolts were 0-5 on powerplay goals, and Leafs got the one that mattered.
Thankfully the victory came in overtime. Bolts are still at 40 points to the Leafs’ 39, although they have two games in hand. What to say about this game? It happened. Bolts got a point. Nobody was hurt.
Sometimes, you just have to endure. Onward!