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article imageLeafs without a clue to stop the Blues in sixth consecutive loss Special

By Dave Pitman     Mar 25, 2014 in Sports
Toronto - The return of Jonathan Bernier failed to spark the play of the Maple leafs as the ship continues to sink in Toronto. Meanwhile, the rest of the Division continues to climb in the standings.
"We're missing motivation. This time of the year, everybody should have some. Obviously we knew it wasn't going to be easy, thats a good team out there." said Bernier post game as the St. Louis Blues put forth a dominating performance tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
The St. Louis Blues have established themselves as an elite NHL team this 2013-14 season. Leading the NHL in the race for the Presidents trophy, they sit atop the standings league wide. Success is nothing new to St. Louis in Toronto, however, as the Blues now ride a nine game win streak at the Air Canada Centre dating back to February 4th, 1998. Adding veteran goaltender Ryan Miller to the mix only adds more disastrous history for Toronto; Since 2005-06, no goaltender has faced the Maple Leafs more times than Miller. In 49 starts, Miller is 31-15-3 with a .922 SV% and 2.46 GAA. Starting opposite Miller, Jonathan Bernier would make his first start since March 13th in Los Angeles where he left the game due to a groin injury. Bernier was 8-1-2 in his previous 11 games prior to the injury, and would look to steer the slumping Leafs in the right direction once again.
The Blues have handled the Atlantic Division pretty handily this season, going 10-1-2 this year. Their specialty has come defensively, as they don't allow many shots, and as a result; goals. The Blues Penalty kill has been especially impressive; They boast the NHL's top penalty kill when playing on the road. The solid penalty killing would meet Toronto's top ranked home power play unit in a clash of special teams.
Jonathan Bernier wouldn't be eased back into his starting gig — The Blues came out swinging in the first period putting together various scoring chances including a breakaway where Bernier's injured groin would be tested, but held up strong. Midway through the frame, Toronto would open the scoring for the first time in eight games as Joffrey Lupul potted his 21st of the season on a scramble out front. Even with the opening goal on their side, the rink would continue to slant the other way as St. Louis kept the pressure in the Leafs offensive zone, out-shooting the Leafs 21-6 through 16 minutes of play. Late in the period, T.J. Oshie would score his 18th, this time in a scramble in front of Bernier, to tie the game up. With less than a minute in the period, James van Riemsdyk took an interference penalty that St. Louis would capitalize on; Failing to clear puck, Phaneuf would make a bad turnover as David Backes took control and scored through the legs of Jonathan Bernier. The period ended with the agitated fans at the Air Canada Center showering boo's as the Leafs trailed 2-1 into the intermission, being out-shot 23-7.
With a 26-1-3 record when leading after the first period, the Blues would keep their foot on the pedal in the second. Early on, David Backes displayed his speed, streaking in on the wing and firing a shot past Bernier for his second of the game to give St. Louis the 3-1 edge. The Blues would dominate the period, logging 30 shots by the midway point, and would strike again late. With the puck loose out front, former Maple Leaf Alex Steen back handed a floater over top Bernier's shoulder to push the score to 4-1, his 31st goal of the season. Steen played 253 games with the Leafs earlier in his career, notching 50 goals and 76 assists in his time with the club. The period would end with the Blues out-shooting the Leafs 36-14.
Just five minutes into the third, Carl Gunnarsson would provide the Leafs with a spark. Intercepting Alex Pietrangelo's pass in front of the net, Gunnarsson fired his third of the year by Miller to bring the Leafs to within two. The goal pumped a little air into the deflated Leafs roster as James van Riemsdyk would score his 28th of the season later in the period but that's as close as it would come. David Backes scored the hat trick on the empty net to serve the Leafs with their sixth consecutive loss, their longest losing streak of the season.
"If we play like we did in the the third, we can beat any team in this league. So, we have to work on our start instead of chasing the game." said Bernier to reporters after the game.
James van Riemsdyk would agree with Bernier, adding the confidence is still there.
"Thats a heck of a hockey team over there, you gotta give them credit…Every time we get down we seem to ramp it up, but by then it's too little too late. We have a lot of confidence in our abilities and we believe in the guys in the room… This thing is far from over."
The Maple Leafs were forced to battle back from from a deficit once again, which has become a bad habit for the team recently. Whether or not a strong third period is put together, there aren't a lot of teams in the NHL that will give up a lead when starting the third period ahead. While positives can be drawn from strong finishes, there are issues with the way the Maple Leafs are starting games, issues that Joffrey Lupul offered an honest assessment of.
"We couldn't get it out of our zone. They put a lot of pressure on us, and we couldn't handle it…" he started, "Certainly, we're afraid of letting it slip away… The whole year we've thought we're a playoff team and we still believe that now, so it's a matter of just going out there and doing it… Today we came out tentative and it could be that fear of letting it slip away but realistically we're still right there with these teams so there's reason for concern but it's not completely time to panic, we're still right there… We've got a game friday, we play Detroit Saturday… win those games and suddenly things look a lot different."
The Maple Leafs will have a tough task ahead of them as they travel to take on the surging Philadelphia Flyers on Friday evening before facing off with the Redwings Saturday. Toronto is now in danger of sitting outside the playoff picture for the first time all year, in a four-way tie with Detroit, Columbus and Washington with 80 points each. With a tough schedule ahead, the entire season will come down to the next two weeks with the possibility of the Maple Leafs missing out on post-season play.
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