It’s between the second and third period of the game against the Penguins as I type this. The Leafs are up 4-3 following another late period surge by the Penguins.
I am prepared to decree that we have a team. We have a team that skates hard and forces turnovers. We have a team that plays together. We have a team that is able to play reasonably competent team defence. We have a team that can play a smart road game – ignore the fact the zebras are screwing you, play with urgency but also discipline, pounce on the chances you get, take an early lead to get the crowd out of it and above all, stick to the plan.
We’ve got a team.
Think of this: the team effort and systematic forecheck that the Leafs have managed to consistently rely on has tonight masked relatively weak efforts by Kessel and Bozak. Kessel has been mostly a non-factor in this game so far, but it hasn’t mattered because guys like Mike Brown, Clarke MacArthur, Mike Zigomanis, Colby Armstrong and Tim Brent have been busting their butts, causing havoc (and lots of turnovers).
Our team dominated the first half of the first period so thoroughly, the Penguins didn’t have a shot on net until the fourth minute of a Luke Schenn high-sticking double minor. Poor fortune saw the shot go in, and worse fortune saw the Penguins (who seemed to briefly come out of a coma following that goal) add another late in the period. Refusing to surrender, the Leafs stormed back out in the second period and once again imposed their will on the Penguins with speed and determination. They regained the lead and The Monster came up with an enormous post-to-post save on Max Talbot (UPDATE: right, except that the save was on Pascal Dupuis, as NHLCheapshot points out in the comments below) to preserve a one goal margin at the time. Shortly thereafter the Leafs counterpunched again and built the lead to 4-2 on a bang bang pass from Grabovski to MacArthur in front of the Pittsburgh net.
The Penguins turned up the heat late in the second and for the last four minutes or so of the period, carried the play. Gustavsson came up with another huge save on Malkin on a play that saw Malkin awarded a try from the penalty spot – that the enigmatic Russian promptly fired wide. A late marker from Crosby (on which the Monster could not be faulted) raised the possibility of a third period collapse and a mere moral victory.
It could still happen. As I type this, there are 14:00 left in the third period, and it has to be said that the Penguins look more desperate and a bit more organized. Orr has left the game after getting clobbered by Engellard (who?) and Grabovski has taken a shot off the foot, leaving the Leafs possibly undermanned. Clarke MacArthur has just deposited the puck in the stands to give the Pens a power play.
But I don’t think it’s going to happen. I believe in this team. I believe in them so much, I’ve switched seats in my living room. They can overcome any jinx that would ordinarily prevail. The Leafs will win this game and go 3-0.