Maple Leafs no match for Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell scores on Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier during the...

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell scores on Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier during the second period at the United Center on Saturday night. It was Bickell's first goal of the season. (Rob Grabowski/USA Today Sports)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:10 PM ET

CHICAGO - Joffrey Lupul said it would be a measuring stick of the Maple Leafs’ early-season growth.

But a few aren’t tall enough to ride when the Stanley Cup champions get into gear and start spinning teams around. The Leafs lost their way in front of 21,801 fans at the United Center pressure cooker, with the Blackhawks seizing the moment to slap down the Toronto upstarts on national TV.

With a 40-20 advantage on shots, the most given up by the Leafs so far this year, Chicago gave Jonathan Bernier and the Leaf defence fits in a 3-1 victory. That’s two straight losses after a start of 6-1 for Toronto amid worrisome signs such as a four-game Phil Kessel goal drought.

And while Dave Bolland’s return garnered all the hype, two other GTA products now playing for the Hawks, Brandon Pirri and ex-Leaf Mike Kostka, made it on the scoreboard. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville had criticized his whole team for a flat effort on Thursday in losing a shootout to the Blues and they responded with the Hockey Night in Canada spotlight on them.

After a quiet first period, four goals came in 11 minutes during the second frame.

Building its huge shot advantage, Chicago hopped on the break it needed when a puck clanked off Bernier’s glove and he couldn’t poke it out of danger. Bryan Bickell made the deposit.

Toronto was facing a 15-3 deficit in shots when Nazem Kadri got through Corey Crawford on the power play. However, two big chances with the man advantage to get back in the game early in the third elapsed. A fourth Chicago goal was erased by goalie interference and Jonathan Toews went off, but the Leafs could get very little directly at Crawford.

The GTA connection struck after Kadri’s goal, with Kostka’s shot getting through traffic and Bernier with an assist from Pirri, who later shook off Jake Gardiner’s check to make it 3-1 with his second goal in two games. Awakened to the Kostka threat, Lupul and his former teammate went off for slashing each other late in the second.

The crowd couldn’t stop applauding Bolland, starting with the Leafs letting him take the opening faceoff with Toews for a Hockey Fights Cancer promotion. Both players gave their sticks to a nine-year-old local boy who was battling the disease.

There was also reason to cheer when he took a first-period hooking penalty, one of two killed off before Pirri’s goal. Another Bolland tribute during a timeout thanked him for years of service, capped by last year’s Cup winning goal. Bolland stood up to acknowledge many of the fans giving him a standing ‘O’.

The Leafs only had three shots on Crawford in the first period, two from James van Riemsdyk, one on his backhand boogie from behind the goal-line as he returned after two games missing with back spasms. Trevor Smith and Carter Ashton sat as van Riemsdyk came back to the top line and Troy Bodie was installed on the third line to match Chicago’s muscle.

Bernier, who had such a terrible finish in the Carolina game on the misplayed hybrid icing, atoned with enough big saves to keep it close including a breakaway by Patrick Sharp in the second.

Quenneville put Kostka in the lineup for just the second time this year. He was one of two Hawks to miss the net completely on almost point blank chances in the first half of the game, along with Sharp.

But Quenneville obviously knew the ex-Leaf would have a spark against the team that wouldn’t give him a one-way contract this summer after he made the roster last year from the Marlies and played well early in the season. Kostka eventually took a two-way deal with Chicago, but skated with the Leafs during the holidays.

“He hasn’t played much, but we like what he brings,” Quenneville said. “He had a great camp for us and it’s good to see him get back in. He’s one of the guys who defends well on the back end and brings enough offence.”

The Leafs have two days off before playing Anaheim at home and then on Friday they’re in Columbus when the suspended David Clarkson will finally make his debut.


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