Game 20: Dallas gets cooked by a Goose
What can you say about these baffling Maple Leafs?
Just when you think they're going to start the season 82-0, they plunge into a filthy tank. Then when you think they're going to lose every remaining game until the world implodes in 2012, they yank themselves out of the abyss.
Were there moments of acute boredom in tonight's 4-1 win over Dallas? Yes. Did the first period have about as much rhythm as Michael Ignatieff at an all-night rave? Yes. But give this young Leafs team full-credit for grabbing a lead, putting that lead in a chokehold and then singing that lead a goodnight lullaby.
* Jonas "Goose" Gustavsson stopped 21 of 22 shots. If the plan is to remove him from the spotlight upon J.S. Giguere’s return from injury, there seems to be a communication problem. Between his squinting "I’M IN A (BLEEP) ZONE" intensity whenever he removes his mask to spray his face and the way he was controlling rebounds, Goose looked like an inmate who has scaled a prison wall, shacked up with a porn star and has no intention of ever returning to the inside.
* Nikolai Kulemin scored two goals and was a force in both ends of the ice. Mikhail Grabovski picked up two assists and was a force in one end. But if there's a cooler looking duo in the NHL during a post-goal celebration, I've yet to see them. "Nice goal, Kuley." "Nice pass, Grabbo. We good. We so very good."
* Nazem Kadri continued his beautiful playmaking when he fed Tyler Bozak a cross-ice gem at 17:07 of the second. It's possible Kadri was trying to atone for not picking up his man – the apparently auditioning Brad Richards – a few minutes earlier on the only Dallas goal.
* Phil Kessel was the only Leaf to post a minus on the night (-1). Related to the Richards' goal, he was also benched in the second. (Not a highlight, I guess. But something worth discussing.)
* The Leafs played some serious D in the third when they blocked drives, disrupted passing lanes and held the Stars to a measly 7 shots. We know this team can skate and pass when they are so inclined. Now we know they can prevent the opposition from doing the same.
Make no mistake: This was an important win. Yes, there were still some troubling giveaways (Tomas Kaberle, I'm looking at you). Yes, there were some botched plays in the neutral zone. But, overall, the Leafs showed discipline, maturity and no sign of panicking.
They are now 8-9-3 on the season and 3-1 in their past four games. Dare I say it: The dream of a playoff spot is very much alive.
MAIN PHOTO: MARK BLINCH/REUTERS