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article imageMaple Leafs use familiar tactic to snap losing skid Special

By Dave Pitman     Jan 13, 2014 in Sports
Toronto - Desperate for a win after dropping their last four games, The flu-ridden Toronto Maple Leafs finally got themselves back in the win column Sunday night in Toronto as they now find themselves tied for first in shoot-out wins in the NHL.
It's a frustrating stat for the Maple Leafs — although they are now at the top of the league in shoot-out wins with eight, the team has struggled heavily to get the job done in regulation time. Since November 19th, the blue and white have managed just two regulation wins. Now in the midst of a four-game losing skid it seemed as though things could have gone from bad to worse for Toronto this morning when James Reimer, Tim Gleason, Mark Fraser, Tyler Bozak and Jerry D'Amigo all missed their club's morning skate suffering from the flu bug that seems to be making its way around the city. Bozak and Gleason would eventually suit up for the game.
Jonathan Bernier got the start, his second in a row. Entering the game, Bernier sported a 1-1 record in two career games against New Jersey, with a .931 Save % and 1.92 GAA. His counterpart Cory Schneider, who was scheduled to start for the Devils, was 0-0-1in his only career matchup with Toronto where he surrendered just one goal on 27 shots last time the teams met. The Leafs have handled New Jersey well in their teams' histories holding a 64-35-20-7 record all time. They've also won the previous four showdowns with the Devils, but only one of all those games included future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr. Jagr continues to add to his career accomplishments as he notched two more milestones in recent play. In December, Jagr surpassed the legendary Gordie Howe in NHL game winning goals with 122. Saturday night in Florida, the talented 41 year old recorded an assist that broke a tie with Mario Lemieux for 7th in NHL points all time. He now has 1,725 and is the leader amongst active players in points all-time.
The Maple Leafs suited up as a desperate team tonight, having won just one out of their last five games. With the slip in recent play, New Jersey managed to creep up in the standings to catch Toronto in the East, both with 47 points before puck drop Sunday. Only five points separates 9 teams in the conference, so the playoff picture seems to shift with every passing day.
Toronto struggled early to get the puck out from their zone and the Devils jumped out to an early lead in shots. Toronto would eventually tighten up, and as they usually do, the team traded chances with their opponents. With five minutes remaining in the frame, Phil Kessel made his way in front and rifled a shot that Cory Schneider would get a pad on, but Tyler Bozak, who was parked right in front of the net, buried the rebound for his 7th of the season. Bozak is currently riding the most productive hot streak he's experienced as an NHL player, scoring 13 points in his last 11 games, dating back to before an injury that sidelined him for nearly a month. The period would end with the Leafs ahead by one and the Devils outshooting them 13-10.
Just 43 seconds into the second period, Nikolai Kulemin was called for holding and the Devils would go to the power-play. Cycling the puck in the Toronto zone, Ryan Clowe passed to an open Adam Henrique and he would beat Bernier stick side for his 11th of the season to tie the game. Toronto got their chance to respond when Reid Boucher took a high sticking penalty just a few minutes later. A point shot saved by Schneider provided a gift of a rebound right onto James Van Riemsdyk's stick as he tallied the go ahead goal. The assist from Franson was his 18th on the year. Toronto loves when Franson contributes — they are now 12-2-1 when Franson has one or more assists in a game. The celebration would not last long, however. Less than a minute after scoring, a bad Leafs turnover gave Ryan Clowe a breakaway and he would capitalize to tie the game back up at 2-2, which is how the period ended after a Tyler Bozak goal was called back due to James Van Riemsdyk's apparent contact with Cory Schneider before the puck crossed the line. New Jersey ranked 3rd in NHL on the Penalty Kill (86.4 percent) entering Sunday nights game and they flexed that muscle killing off three of four high-sticking penalties in the second period.
After a combined six penalties from both clubs in the second, there would be only one in the third. Joffrey Lupul was called for tripping very early in third period play, but the Maple Leafs were able to kill off the penalty, Bernier coming up big in the process. The chess match continued all the way through the third and into overtime as neither team was able to solve their opposing goaltender.
The Maple Leafs are not strangers to the shoot-out as they now lead the NHL in shoot-out appearances with 12. James Van Riemsdyk started the festivities off with the one and only goal of the contest going back hand to beat Schneider. Jonathan Bernier stopped all three shooters he faced along with 36 saves on 38 shots in regulation and overtime as Toronto snapped their four game losing streak, becoming the NHL's leader in shoot-out wins with 8 in the process.
"Well, we can breathe. There's been a lot of gasping going on, and even in this game there was a lot of gasping going on with how tight it was", said a visibly encouraged Randy Carlyle in his post game conference, "Hopefully this relieves a little bit of the stress that's involved for our hockey club."
The feeling seemed to be mutual between coach and players, and the mood was light and optimistic in the Leafs dressing room after the win.
"It's a lot more fun around a dressing room when you win," Phaneuf told reporters in the post-game scrum, "We know that there's lots more work to do this week, but it feels good to get that win."
James Van Riemsdyk stressed the importance of key guys stepping up and responding from the recent play
"After the last few games I think every one needed to take a look in the mirror and kind of see what they needed to do as far as bringing more to the table and raising our level a little bit. I think guys have responded well…" said Van Riemsdyk.
"…We didn't get the outcome we wanted in Washington, but tonight was much better." added Bozak to reporters post-game.
With nine different teams in the East fighting for positioning in the four last playoff berths, the Leafs cannot afford to drift any further in the standings. Many have suggested that the loss of centre-man Dave Bolland has much to do with the regress in Toronto's play since their 10-4 start. Coach Carlyle revealed good some news to the media earlier in the day when he said Bolland had been fitted for a specialty skate to practice in and they hoped to have him skating with the team by Thursday. In the mean time, Toronto will travel to Boston on Tuesday to face rival Bruins and then return to Toronto for a home stand with Buffalo the very next night. Both Bernier and Reimer are expected to play a game each.
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