April 5, 2012
Few highlights in meaningless game for Leafs
By Rob Longley, QMI AGENCY
TORONTO - He says all the right things about the disappointment of his team’s season and how his own slow start might have contributed to it.
But with family and friends livening up the Air Canada Centre on Thursday night, Steven Stamkos was determined to put on a show just the same.
After a sleepy, slow first period in his late pursuit of a 60-goal season, the Tampa Bay Lightning sniper started to take control in the second of a game that, let’s face it, couldn’t have possibly meant less to either team.
He had nothing to show for six shots on net in the middle period — and that’s not including a breakaway effort in which he fired high and wide by Ben Scrivens.
But at 8:48 of the third, No. 59 came and from then on, it was a hockey game worth watching, eventually being settled with Dion Phaneuf’s overtime goal to give the Leafs a 3-2 win.
Credit to Scrivens — who continues to make a serious case for a bigger role next season — for making a handful of big saves on Stamkos, stops that carried a different motivation.
“I just didn’t want to give up 60 and be on the highlights all summer,” Scrivens joked after a 35-save effort. “I got one on the shoulder, one off the ribs. Whatever it took.”
Meanwhile, Stamkos said his pursuit of 60 isn’t a bother — missing out on the playoffs after a long run last spring has that covered.
“I get asked about it every day so it’s tough not to (think about it),” Stamkos said, when asked again. “You never know if you are going to get close again so you might as well go for it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”
Stamkos will get one more chance on Saturday when the Lightning finish off their season at Winnipeg.
While admitting he hasn’t had a chance to fully get to know his captain, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle stood up for Phaneuf following Thursday’s game. Carlyle acknowledged that the captain is always going to get more heat in a city like Toronto when things go rotten, but suggested it may be a little over the top. “I don’t really understand why that criticism comes,” Carlyle said. “He plays his ass off for the hockey club. He plays the game the way we’d like all our players to play.” ... Granted it came against a player who has the goal-scorer’s ability of making himself invisible, but the Stamkos goal exposed the Leafs inability to mark key opponents yet again. Stamkos was able to sneak undetected to the side of the net to easily redirect a pass from defenceman Bruno Gervais ... A little easier said than done defending Stamkos, especially when his entire team is trying to set him up. “You can see the hockey club trying to push the puck in his direction,” Carlyle said ... It wasn’t nearly as high profile, but Phil Kessel had his moments in his late chase to hit 40 goals. Kessel, who is stuck at 37 now with one game remaining, had several good opportunities (and 10 shots on goal in total) plus an opportunity from point-blank range in OT ... Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner might have got lucky on his tying goal at 2:55 of the third that went in off the stick off Tampa winger Brett Connolly. But Gardiner did the hard work to set it up, outskating and fending off at east three Lightning players to set it up 7th goal. He won’t catch Phaneuf (11), but the Gardiner has matched John-Michael Liles at seven, a decent accomplishment for a rookie.
There have been some impressive signs from rookie Leafs winger Matt Frattin over the final few games and not just from his offensive production. Once again on a line with Kessel and Tyler Bozak on Thursday, Frattin was more than willing to take a pounding in front of the Tampa net creating room for his playmaking linemates ... Hard to imagine 42-year-old Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson being a starter in the league next season, but he gave it one final hurrah against the Leafs, making a handful of big saves. ... Tim Connolly is mostly a checking-line winger now, a far cry from the first-line centre role he was brought in to play. He did manage his 13th goal of the season though (matching last season’s total in Buffalo) when he finished off a nice pass from Gardiner ... With this assist on Phaneuf’s game winner, Kessel has 82 points, just one shy of the most by a Leaf since Mats Sundin had 31 goals and 52 assists in 1998-99 ... Remember when the Lightning were Eastern Conference finalists last year winning a big game sevens on the road in Pittsburgh and two in Washington to get there? Road warriors turned to road woes this year as they had a miserable record of 12-22-6 away from Tampa. Only Columbus is worse. “Our road record is awful and it cost us a playoff spot,” Stamkos said ... And yes, that was the wave ACC inhabitants were doing in overtime.