Phaneuf-less Leafs fall to Kings at home

Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel and goes in one-on-one against Kings goalie Martin Jones, but doesn't...

Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel and goes in one-on-one against Kings goalie Martin Jones, but doesn't score in the second period in Toronto on Wednesday December 11, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre. (Jack Boland/Toronto Sun)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:58 PM ET

TORONTO - After months of harbouring good-natured thoughts of revenge against his former team, Jonathan Bernier’s hopes of a celebration disappeared with one Jeff Carter shot that squeezed through his five-hole.

Carter’s stoppable goal at 9:40 of the third period snapped a 1-1 tie en route to 3-1 Los Angeles Kings victory over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday. In the process, it delivered a bittersweet pill to swallow for Randy Carlyle’s squad, easily the better side in this one.

“This was the best game we played all season,” Bernier said. “We deserved a better fate.”

On many nights this season, the Leafs have been outplayed only to have their goalies save the day.

On this night, it was the opposite.

It wasn’t like Bernier stunk out the joint. He was good for the most part.

Just not on Carter’s goal.

“He’s got a great shot,” Bernier said.

Indeed, the Leafs easily turned in an outstanding all-around effort, outshooting the Kings 39-23. But, this time, a hiccup by Bernier cost them in the end.

Still, if the Leafs can play like this every night, they’ll win far more than they lose.

With captain Dion Phaneuf out of the lineup while serving the first game of his two-game suspension, coach Randy Carlyle rolled the dice by pairing puck-moving youngsters Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly together against the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Kings.

At first blush, it seemed to be a peculiar decision, given that the Kings are one of the hardest-forechecking teams in the league, a team oozing with sandpaper.

Usually, going up against such an in-your-face style would be the Achilles heel for the likes of Gardiner and Rielly, who are more known for their hustle than their muscle. After all, the Los Angeles recipe for success would seem to be a simple one: Dump the puck into either kid’s corner, then grind along the wall with the intention of wearing the youngsters out.

But, as the old adage goes, you can’t hit what you can’t catch.

And, for much of the first two periods, the Gardiner-Rielly duo avoided issues in their own end by moving the puck quickly up the ice, creating an offensive flow Toronto management has not seen for weeks from their team.

Much was made about Bernier facing his former team for the first time since coming to the Leafs over the summer. Bernier, of course, was acquired from the Kings during the off-season for Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin and a second-round pick after spending the majority of his young career backing up Jonathan Quick, one of the best of the biz.

“He’s geared up to seize the opportunity, seize the job, and he hasn’t disappointed,” coach Randy Carlyle said earlier in the day.

“If you look at our goaltending as a whole, you’d have to say it’s probably been one of our stronger suits and Bernier has fit in with our group. He’s been a complement to our hockey club with his work ethic, his professionalism.

“We’re fortunate to have him,” Carlyle added.

Meanwhile, neither player who was shipped out to the left coast in the Bernier deal — Frattin and Scrivens — saw any action. Frattin, who is a team-worst minus-7, was a healthy scratch, while Scrivens found himself on the bench backing up young phenom Martin Jones.

With Quick injured, many figured Scrivens (7-2-4, 1.56) would get the call against his former team.

But after getting the shutout in a 6-0 thrashing of the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, Jones once again was coach Darryl Sutter’s pick to start between the pipes.

It seemed to be the right choice in the early going. The Leafs outshot the Kings 11-8 in the first period, only to see Jones keep them off the board.

At the same time, Bernier and the Leafs headed to the dressing room down 1-0 thanks to a Drew Doughty snap shot into the top corner that would have beaten every goaltender in the league.

Buoyed by the return of Lupul to the lineup after a seven-game absence with a groin injury, the Leafs continued to press in the second period and were finally rewarded for their hard work while enjoying a two-man advantage.

With Doughty and Willie Mitchell both in the penalty box, the Leafs tied the game 1-1 at 14:30 of the second period when a brilliant diagonal pass from Phil Kessel was one-timed past Jones from a difficult angle by Cody Franson.

It was Franson’s first goal of the season.

The Leafs once again took the play to the Kings early in the third. But when the Kings came back on the counter-attack midway through the third, Carter spoiled Bernier’s blue-and-white party to put Toronto up 2-1.

Kyle Clifford scored late in the game to seal the deal.


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