That rumbling you hear coming from Lake Ontario is the sound of Maple Leafs fans getting into the playoff race.
The Leafs took down the Canadiens in Montreal tonight 5-4 on the strength of a four point night from Phil Kessel. Kessel had two goals and two assists while his linemate Tyler Bozak finished the night with two goals and an assist. The win gets Toronto to within four points of the eighth spot in the East behind Carolina and puts them one point ahead of Atlanta for 10th in the east, one point behind Buffalo.
Montreal got the early lead thanks to a goal from Jeff Halpern but the Leafs got it all back fast in the first period scoring three quick goals on tonight’s starter Alex Auld. Kessel’s two goals and Brett Lebda’s first goal as a Maple Leaf chased Auld from the game after just 13:02. Upon Carey Price’s entrance to the game, the Canadiens were able to mount a comeback and tied the game in the second period thanks to goals from Mike Cammalleri and James Wisniewski. Tyler Bozak would make sure Montreal got the lead back heading to the third scoring his first of the night.
In the third, the teams traded goals again as Tyler Bozak scored his second to give the Leafs a 5-3 lead. Max Pacioretty would make things interesting scoring a goal with under three minutes to play, but James Reimer would make it all hold up in the end for Toronto as he finished the game with 31 saves and another Leafs victory, their fourth in their last five games.
While it’s incredible to see the Leafs crawl out of the basement in the Eastern Conference and the thought of Toronto getting in the playoffs is thrilling (hey, who doesn’t want an insane, rabid fan base getting in the playoffs?) the dose of reality awaiting Toronto in the schedule is a bit of a drag.
With 21 games left to play, ten are at home and they aren’t easy. Two games each with Pittsburgh and Buffalo as well as match-ups with Philadelphia, Boston, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Washington, and Montreal. Their 11 remaining road games aren’t much better with trips to Detroit, Philadelphia, Carolina, Boston, and New Jersey among others. If the Leafs can battle through all that and still make the playoffs, they will have earned it and they’ll be battle tested and ready to go in the postseason.
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”
Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).
Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.
Read more about his rise here.
In his fifth NHL game, intriguing Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana scored his first NHL goal (and point).
Let’s be honest, though; Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves plenty of the credit, as he sent a fantastic pass for Vrana’s tap-in tally.
See it for yourself:
Even if that was mostly Kuznetsov, Vrana has been getting his chances so far.
He generated four shots on goal in two separate occasions so far in his four games of NHL action, so maybe he was due for a chance like this.
Considering he’s just 20 years old, the Capitals could get used to Kuznetsov to Vrana.
Update: The Capitals won 4-1, and Vrana’s first goal wasn’t the only noteworthy “first.” After piling on shots, John Carlson finally scored his first goal of the season:
No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.
The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.
Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?
He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.
Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.
The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.
He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.
With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.
Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?
Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old: