From The Star
Like a suspense novel, the Maple Leafs keep you guessing until the end. Whether it’s last-minute goals, as in games with Boston or Philadelphia in the last week, or playing in their 12th overtime game of the season, as they did Thursday night, the outcome is never a sure thing.
Toronto held Carolina scoreless until overtime Thursday, then lost 1-0 when Jordan Staal scored at the Air Canada Centre. It was a heartbreaker of a loss for the Leafs, but all the close games, all the grit they show, make for a positive sign.
“It sends the message we’re going in the right direction,” said Leafs forward Brad Boyes, who was playing in his 800th career game. “We don’t let off. There have games we’ve come back and won. We’ve got to keep pushing.”
The Leafs, 1-5-1 in their last seven games, are now 0-4 when the game is decided in three-on-three. Head coach Mike Babcock wasn’t biting on the “but it was close” argument.
“I like winning,” Babcock said. “It’s how I measure my enjoyment.”
Goaltender James Reimer, who faced 40 shots, was at his best in the first period, especially early when the Hurricanes came on strong. He made three big saves in the first minute and Carolina had a 9-1 shots advantage through the first half of the period.
Eddie Lack earned the shutout for Carolina. He made his best save in second, getting a glove on a short-handed breakaway chance by Michael Grabner.
“There’s no moral victories, but we feel good about our game,” said Leafs centre Nazem Kadri, who had the best Leafs chance in overtime. “We gave ourselves a chance to win. Both goalies played great. One bounce popped out to Staal and he put it in. That was the difference.”
Though it was a low-scoring affair, the crowd seemed to love it. The ones that loved it the most were there to see Boyes. A bunch of his buddies were shown on the big screen wearing Boyes jerseys from some of the other six teams he played for before returning to the Leafs, the team that drafted him in 2000.
“I didn’t know they were going to do that,” said Boyes, almost embarrassed when the subject was brought up.
Still, Boyes took a trip through memory lane before his 800th game. He remembered his first game in the NHL like it was yesterday. He was on the ice for two goals against on his first two shifts.
“I remember being minus-2 and thinking, ‘It can’t get any worse,’ ” said Boyes.
Things, of course, got better for Boyes: 43 goals one year in St. Louis, 33 another, 208 overall. But as Thursday night showed, the game of hockey has changed in the 13 years Boyes has been an NHLer. The freewheeling, high-scoring days are long over.
Each game is a grind, where scoring chances are celebrated nearly as much today as the goals at the beginning of Boyes career.
“You can’t dance through guys like you used to,” he said. “Guys read the play better.”
The players are more skilled, and better coached, the 33-year-old Boyes said.
“The gap, with skill, is so much smaller. Everyone can skate. Everyone keeps up. Everyone backchecks. There just isn’t the room.
“The coaches figured out to take away a guy’s time and space is the biggest thing. You give a guy with skill some space, he’s going to make you pay. That’s the biggest thing . . . a lot more focus on the defensive game over the years.”
Boyes didn’t think 800 games was a big deal.
“A thousand games is a big deal,” said Boyes. “As a player, we look at things day to day. I don’t step back and see what I’ve done. It’s: ‘What do I do today, what do I have to do tomorrow?’ That’s really it, our schedule. What do we do this week? We don’t go much further. It really is: ‘We’ve got a game to play.’ That’s the honest truth about how it feels.”
“Eight hundred is special,” said the coach. “Still ticking, still playing. (He) had no contract in the summer. (He’s) still playing in the NHL. Says a lot about his determination and his skill set. He should be proud and his family should be proud.”
NOTES: James Reimer has started five of the last seven games in the Toronto net . . . Morgan Rielly’s next game will be his 200th in the NHL . . . . . . The next game by Roman Polak and Daniel Winnik will be their 100th each as Maple Leafs . . . The Leafs entered the game tied for fifth in faceoff win percentage (51.2 per cent).