TORONTO - The Maple Leafs might not have enough meat for a playoff berth, but starting Saturday night, they’ll enjoy some gravy.
A shockingly easy 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins equalled their 74-point total of last season with nine games to play. They even have a shot at a four-year high of 83 points, though their primary concern is clinging to a post-season berth.
With Atlanta in Buffalo on Saturday, it was a no-gain situation for Toronto, but the Sabres’ eventual regulation win at least allowed the Leafs to break free of the Thrashers for 10th spot and stay within four of the Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes.
Toronto’s offensive burst came from a group of players known more for their slogging than scoring, Joey Crabb with a goal and two assists, a solo rush by Luke Shenn and the first NHL goal by Nazem Kadri in his 21st game. Hard-luck defenceman Brett Lebda was a plus-three after 40 minutes, though Joffrey Lupul remains cursed and it was another silent night from the three gunners on the top line.
Toronto needed this kind of push to send it on the road for the fnal long trip of year, to Minnesota, Colorado and Detroit.
The first two clubs are in similar or worse playoff situations than the Leafs, so it’s conceivable the Leafs will be alive for an all-important head-to-head against Buffalo on March 29.
With Tomas Kaberle and his 520 points traded to Boston, Schenn gathered steam at his own blue line got around three Bruins and went high backhand on Tim Thomas with both benches looking on dumbfounded.
It was Schenn’s fourth of the year, one shy of his career high, and the first time in nine games Toronto had scored first.
The lead didn’t last long as Adam McQuaid, the last Boston player Schenn beat, banked a corner shot off Dion Phaneuf and past James Reimer.
But Toronto got out of the first period with a lead for the first time in 11 games when a Kadri shot seemed to strike Brad Boyes and go in.
The much critiqued first-rounder is back on the right side with Crabb and centre Darryl Boyce, though the latter was not on the bench to start the third period.
Crabb gained his second assist of the period on the Kadri goal.
Reimer was the story in the second frame, starting with a breakaway stop on a streaking Tyler Seguin. He was at the 20-save mark well before the midway point of the contest and made more than 30 saves for the sixth time in 11 games.
Reimer set the table for Crabb to follow up some good forechecking by Kadri to sweep in a rebound and then Mike Brown, with a burst of speed, beat Thomas five-hole. After 14 shots, that was it for the league’s Vezina Trophy front-runner, the second time he’s lost head-to-head to Reimer in a month. He was replaced by Tuukka Rask, who allowed a Keith Aulie goal, the rookie defenceman’s second of year, with Thomas returning in the third. Brown pushed Thomas for an interference penalty.
Kaberle was a non-factor as he has been for much of his time with the Bruins and while the fans gave Kaberle a strong ovation during a video tribute in a timeout, they were all over Zdeno Chara in part for his well publicized hit on Max Pacioretty of the Habs, the start of a late-season spiral in team fortunes.
The Bruins tried to goad the Leafs into fights a couple of times, but the only fireworks came late in the game when Phaneuf and Nathan Horton went at it.