Thursday, March 6, 2014

Toronto Maple Leafs 3 at New York Rangers 2 (OT) - March 5, 2014


Last week, the Leafs played in Long Island and lost an entertaining game in overtime, 5-4. Then they went on to Montreal for another OT loss, back home for a cup of coffee and a loss to Columbus before returning to New York to take on the Rangers. I don't know who runs the NHL schedule, but he must hate the players or have shares in charter airline companies.



Anyway, tickets for this game were expensive on the secondary market as they usually are for the Rangers, but a friend was able to acquire me a single seat for the season ticket price of $56. It was in row 18 of the 200 level right at center ice, a great viewpoint if just a bit far away. I've written quite a bit about Madison Square Garden here, but every visit is an opportunity to learn something new. Today's lesson: media notes are available on the 100 level at one of the desks and give you quite detailed stats on both teams. Did you know that the Leafs have been wildly outshot in all 3 periods over the season (560-735, 580-763, 561-726, 42-49)? Probably. But what is more interesting is that their 5-on-5 record is exactly even in terms of goals (121 goals scored and 121 against). It is their play in odd-man situations that is hurting their overall goal differential, particularly 3-on-5 where they've given up 6 goals, half of their differential (177 for, 189 against).

Another stat was the Original Six standings since 2005-06. Detroit leads at 50-25-12, while Toronto, naturally, is the only team below .500 at 67-70-24. Of course, .500 means nothing with the 3-point game but still, a telling statistic and one that the Leafs are in the midst of reversing.


Dan Girardi floats in the air

I spent the first period in my seat and was surprised as Toronto managed to stay close in the shot count with the Rangers winning that battle 12-11 but neither team able to score. In the second period, I moved to a standing spot behind the Rangers' net and was rewarded when Tyler Bozak scored on a penalty shot, the only goal of the frame (below).



For the third, I returned to my seat and saw the Leafs take a 2-0 lead on a goal by Nazem Kadri, who was left all alone to poke a rebound past Henrik Lundqvist and send the Rangers' fans in apoplectic rage. One fellow advised them to "Call me next time you don't show up and I'll stay at home too!"



It was a bit early for such pronouncements though, as the Rangers soon took a penalty and Toronto decided to play giveaway with the man advantage. First Cody Franson casually backhanded the puck in front of his own net where Dan Boyle blocked it into the corner. A pass out front ended up on the stick of Ryan McDonagh who banked a shot in off Dion Phaneuf's skate to end Jonathan Bernier's shutout bid 16 seconds into the penalty. Just over a minute later, Phil Kessel (#81 above) tried a cross-ice pass at his own blue line that was picked off by Dominic Moore, who broke away on a 2-on-1 with Derek Stepan. Moore to Stepan to Moore to the back of the net and the game was tied at 2. The guy next to me asked for a fist bump, but I just shook my head. "Toronto?" he asked in disbelief. I nodded glumly. I should note that the Leafs gave up two shorties on the same penalty last week at the Islanders as well. Not a trend that should continue.

With the game tied, the Rangers began looking for the winner, but Bernier blocked everything coming his way and we made it to overtime. Just before the extra period, the teams were assessed coincidental minors so when OT started, they played 3-on-3 for just over a minute, a sight you rarely see and one that leads to a lot of shots and excitement. After the penalties expired and the teams returned to 4-on-4 hockey, Kessel took the puck from his own end zone through center, dropping it for Bozak at the Rangers' blue line. A pass back to Kessel went behind the net as Bozak moved to the front. Both Rangers' defensemen chased Kessel, who got the puck in front to an uncovered Bozak who beat Henrik Lundqvist high to win the game. The Leafs win! The Leafs win! Greatest game ever!



Maybe not ever, but I enjoyed this one immensely. The Leafs won the face-off, hits, and blocked shots battles as you can see on the scoreboard below, and they were "only" outshot 37-29, one of their better efforts. It was the 21st Leafs road game I've seen and they are now 9-10-2 with the game in Washington coming up in 10 days. The Leafs give up way too many shots but they are still managing to win. Can that continue? Doubtful but it will be fun watching the rest of the season.



Notes

Martin St. Louis was traded to the Rangers earlier in the day and made his debut for the team. A fan next to me already had purchased his #26 jersey with St. Louis stitched on. That's some dedicated fandom right there.

Next Up

I'm heading to Pine Bluff, Arkansas this weekend to cover a college basketball arena for Stadium Journey. I might even make it over to Mississippi for my first college baseball game of the season, weather permitting. Check back to see what happened.

Best,

Sean

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