There was an unlikely goaltending match-up at the Air Canada Centre on Monday night with 70 total shots, but a predictable result, when the Boston Bruins gave up just one goal.
The Maple Leafs came back with James Reimer in a surprise duel with slumping Bruin Tuukka Rask. But with the B’s operating at peak efficiency in their checking game, the choice of stopper became a moot point.
Ex-Leafs pick Rask and Boston weathered a first-period storm and then ground out a 2-1 win, the third straight one-goal regulation loss at home for Toronto, one of the reasons they occupy the basement of the Northeast Division and the Bruins the top.
Boston, with an NHL-low 85 goals against, elected not to use No. 1 Tim Thomas, but Rask was good when he had to be. Reimer faced 30-plus shots for the second straight game, but was bumped by Milan Lucic on Marc Savard’s eventual winner in the second period.
Reimer is still expected to be returned to the Marlies once Jean-Sebastein Giguere is ready to come back from a groin injury later this week. But he has demonstrated to Jonas Gustavsson that there will be competition for the latter’s job next year if Giguere doesn’t re-sign. The Leafs will likely split Giguere and Gustavssson in back-to-back games against St. Louis and Atlanta and use those two on next week’s West Coast road trip.
The Leafs recent upward trend of scoring first continued on a Mikhail Grabovski goal that had its origins on a Luke Schenn shot block. In one motion, the defenceman Schenn spotted the streaking Grabovski and sent a long skyward pass that was timed beautifully for him to cross the blueline and beat Rask. Toronto was also able to start the middle period with a power play. But an 0-for-5 night in the win over Ottawa with the extra man carried on.
Boston dodged that bullet and started to turn the screws on the Leafs, often trapping them at their own line.
Nathan Horton tied the game at 7:56 after the Bruins forced Schenn into a turnover and got away a screen shot. Outside of a good Phil Kessel rush and the second game he has had an edge on nemesis Tyler Seguin, the Leafs weren’t threatening in the second period and Horton had his second point, setting up Savard while Lucic bothered Reimer. The Leafs gave it a good stab in the third period, as Kessel ended the game with close to 10 shots, but still no goals in nine tries against his old team in regulation.
On Sunday morning, Boston coach Claude Julien was talking about Rask needing a serious session with club goaltending instructor Bob Essensa back in Boston to work with his head mechanics. Rask seemed poised for a great playoff run last season when the Bruins overcame Buffalo and were about to skunk the Flyers vbefore the latter sparng back to life.
Thomas, the Vezina Trophy winner in 2008-09, reclaimed the job in the autumn and Rask has been struggling at 2-7-1. His .922 save percentage shows he isn’t a liability, but a rough first period in Buffalo on New Year’s Day brought Thomas unexpectedly off the bench in what became a 7-6 shootout loss.
But the idea of giving Thomas a proper rest was never settled and with the Toronto game not exactly a battle of division leaders, Julien gave Rask another chance amd he didn’t disappoint. Rask made 36 saves against the Leafs.