Strong Leafs effort falls short

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

In the dreariest moments of this season, the Maple Leafs must have looked at this three-week dark hole in their home schedule and wondered if anyone would be enthused about coming back to watch them after the Olympics.

That it was preceded by seven games against playoff-bound teams added to the trepidation. But that was before a couple of big trades by general manager Brian Burke, a full bloom of rookies getting a shot and a renewed commitment to special teams gave some hope that final weeks of the season will be worthwhile.

In the final ACC game before the break on Monday, a patchwork lineup that included 2009 first-round pick Nazem Kadri on emergency recall, fended off the Cup-contending San Jose Sharks for almost 60 minutes in a 3-2 loss. Ryane Clowe’s fortunate goal with 6:39 to play still didn’t allow the strong visitors to relax as Toronto buzzed their net twice with Jean-Sebastien Gigure pulled for a sixth man.

The teenage Kadri took the opening faceoff against Sharks’ gigantic scoring ace Joe Thornton and at the buzzer, wound up bumping with 40-year-old blueline warhorse Rob Blake.

“Blake wished me luck,” Kadri said, trying to hide a grin. “(Thornton) didn’t say anything to me on the first faceoff, but I grew up watching him. Maybe I should have asked for his autograph.”

Blake certainly was impressed with the kid.

“I just wanted to congratulate him. I grew up around here and I know what it means to him to be called up by the Leafs. For his first game out of junior, he played pretty good.”

“(The flu bug sapped the Leafs after Saturday’s win over Ottawa and by Monday morning, penalty-killing specialist Fredrik Sjostrom and second-line centre Christian Hanson were too sick to play. With the Marlies on the other side of the continent playing the Abbotsford, B.C., Heat and down in numbers themselves, the Leafs summoned enforcer Andre Deveaux and invoked the little-used NHL emergency recall rule. It’s valid only when the parent club is dangerously low on manpower (10 forwards in this case), the farm team is in similar straits and the junior player’s club is not involved in their own game that evening.

Kadri played well with Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg, but likely will be returned by the time Toronto plays its last pre-break game on Friday in St. Louis.

The disparity in special teams between the Cup-hungry Sharks and the cusp-of-elimination Leafs seems as long as the road between the two cities.

But the Leafs numbers actually improved as they fought through the seven games against New Jersey (three times), Ottawa, Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Jose. The Leafs were 6-for-24 on the power play and killed 18 of 21 penalties. Toronto has been dead last in the latter category much of the past two seasons.

The Leafs outscored those clubs 23-22 overall with a record of 2-4-1.

The injection of another big gun on the power-play point with Dion Phaneuf had already been noted and Phaneuf’s fat rebound was stuffed in by Phil Kessel to tie the game late in the second period.

“Guys have been working extremely hard doing all the little things, blocking shots, skating hard, not giving the other team time to set up,” Giguere said.

Toronto survived the Western Conference’s top power play on a first-period chance and went to the dressing room with a 1-0 lead on Tyler Bozak’s goal.

When the Sharks missed a tap in off the backboard with Giguere out of position, it looked like the goalie would have another charmed night. But on the very next faceoff, the Sharks won the draw and Dan Boyle skipped in his 11th of the year from the point.

Thus ended Giguere’s Leafs’ streak at 151:30 and his third crack at three consecutive shutouts in his NHL career.


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