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article imageBozak returns as Maple Leafs dodge the Hurricanes in regulation Special

By Dave Pitman     Dec 30, 2013 in Sports
Toronto - The Toronto Maple Leafs notched just their second regulation win in twenty games in a rare sunday evening matchup in Toronto.
Before this season, the Maple Leafs haven't had a home game on a Sunday since Feb 23, 2003 when the Leafs fell to the Predators 5-2. It was the second of three sunday games on the year for the Leafs, and the second of three meetings with the Carolina Hurricanes this season. The Maple Leafs lost 3-2 to the Hurricanes on Oct. 17 at the Air Canada Centre. Carolina is a team that has given Toronto some trouble over the years. Carolina is 17-6-1 in the last 24 games played against Toronto. The Leafs are just 38-50-11-6 all time against Carolina.
The Hurricanes came to Toronto on a bit of a rough streak, having lost their previous three games. The Leafs have had some trouble closing out games lately as well; Their last four games have gone to shoot-out, setting a new franchise record. The previous record for consecutive shoot-outs was from Oct 7-12 in 2006.
Players with some interesting story lines entering the game were Tyler Bozak, Paul Ranger, and Jeff Skinner. Bozak was returning from injury, his first game since December 3rd. Ranger, although having a less than average season thus far, has had the most success of any of the Leafs players against Carolina. He has 14 assists and 18 points versus the Hurricanes in his career. Ranger was also one point shy of 100 career NHL points before the puck dropped. Jeff Skinner entered tonights game having scored 12 points (10g 2a) in his last 11 games.
Jonathan Bernier would get the start, his third consecutive start, and Cam Ward got the nod for Carolina.
Toronto played an awful first period Friday night versus the Sabres, and Sundays game against Carolina started much the same way. It took just over ten minutes into the game before the Leafs recorded their first shot. Once the shot came, however, Toronto would gain momentum, and a little bit of luck. Tyler Bozak pushed the puck over to Phil Kessel behind the goal line after a face-off where he threw a backhand shot over at Ward. The shot took an awkward bounce off Cam Ward and Kessel got his 19th of the year in a bizarre fashion. The period would end with the Hurricanes out shooting the Leafs 12-7, but the Leafs led the scoring 1-0.
Carolina would push back early on in the second. Alexander Semin made a pass out front to Nathan Gerbe who clapped a one timer from his knee past Bernier to tie the game at 1-1. There was a drop off in action after the goal until later in the period. Carrying the puck into the Carolina zone, Phil Kessel tried to make a pass out to James Van Riemsdyk across the crease. Ron Hainsey tried to block the pass but the puck would bounce off his stick and into the net for Kessel's second goal of the game. The goal marked the sixth straight season that Kessel reached twenty or more goals. Just over a minute later, Nikolai Kulemin blasted his fifth goal of the season by Ward to put the Leafs up 3-1. Carolina didn't waste any time in responding when Justin Faulk slapped one by Bernier just a few minutes later to make it 3-2. David Clarkson left the game in the period and did not return in the frame.
The third period wouldn't showcase quite as much offence as the second, but the Leafs would continue to attack. Five minutes in, Paul Ranger added to his career totals versus the Hurricanes and scored his second goal of the season, putting the Leafs up 4-2. Tyler Bozak assisted the goal, notching his third assist of the game in his first game back. Phaneuf drove the nail into the coffin late in the game scoring an empty net goal and giving the Leafs a much needed regulation win.
Paul Ranger scored his 100th career point on his third period goal, and Coach Carlyle liked what he saw from his veteran defenseman. "We need Ranger to be physical… If he builds on that, the rest of his game will come." Carlyle told reporters post game.
"Don't try to do too much…" Bozak said in the dressing room after the game, "You can't try to take over the game right away, its obviously not going to happen… Luckily we got a few good bounces and were able to control the lead."
"We didn't use him as much tonight…" Carlyle said of Bozak, "I'd say that's going to change going forward."
Carlyle refused to say much about the playing time of his goalies. When asked what it says when Bernier starts three games in a row, Carlyle's answer was short and simple, "He played three games in a row. That's what it says."
Bernier was relieved the game ended in regulation after backstopping in three straight shoot-outs, losing two of them. "It feels good to get away from that." said Bernier, "It was good to get in a groove".
Even with Bernier's solid play as of late, he wasn't counting himself as a lock for starting the Winter Classic on Wednesday, "Thats up to Randy." Bernier said through a big grin.
The 2014 NHL Winter Classic takes place Wednesday when Toronto travels to Ann Arbor to take on the Redwings. The much anticipated game will bring an end to the HBO camera crews following around Coach Carlyle's team, something he is looking forward to.
"I wasn't waving the pom-poms to be involved with it to start with," Carlyle told reporters, "We're under the microscope already in this market but with HBO and the event, its intensified."
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