is not one of those larger-than-life players.
He is quietly effective and often critiqued as a second or third-line centre masquerading as a No. 1. And yet there he was in his return after missing 12 games with an oblique injury
drawing three assists and leading his Toronto Maple Leafs to a 5-2 win
over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes at Air Canada Centre on Sunday night.
"I was pretty tired," Bozak said after the game. "All in all the first few shifts were tough, but we were lucky enough to get one early in the game and I think that helped to loosen things up a bit."
The Maple Leafs went 5-5-2 while the 27-year-old was out. His three assists against the Hurricanes give him four goals and 14 points in 17 games. He previously missed 12 games with a hamstring injury. Bozak returned to the top line skating between wingers Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. Nazem Kadri, who took his placed on the top line, had just four goals and six points in Bozak's absence.
"We think a lot of the player and you can tell by the number of minutes he plays," said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. "That's usually a good indication about how coaches feel about players. He plays on our top line; he can kill penalties and he takes a lot of important faceoffs. We didn't use him as much tonight, but I would say that is going to change."
Carlyle added Bozak is a smart player who does a lot of things that don't make it to the game sheet. Nevertheless, Bozak did skate 24 shifts for 17:14 ice time with two hits and four takeaways. He was 56 per cent on faceoffs.
Upon returning, Bozak said he was careful to not try to do too much too soon.
"I think if you get out there and think you have to take over the game right away it's obviously not going to happen," he said. "Early in the game I was just trying to get pucks deep and get them to my wingers as quickly as I could. Luckily we got a few good bounces that ended up in the back of the net and we were able to hold onto the lead."
Bozak made an immediate impact drawing an assist by winning a faceoff in the Carolina zone in the first period that led to Kessel scoring his 19th goal of the season
. Kessel and van Riemsdyk later hooked up on a beautiful give-and-go play in the second period for his 20th goal of the season
Kessel scored twice and easily could have had two or three more goals. Following his first period marker at 16:56, he stayed on the ice and nearly scored on the next shift. He skated in alone, but was turned back by Carolina goalie Cam Ward. In the second period the Toronto sniper broke in two-on-one with teammate Mason Raymond and had his one-timer turned back by Ward. Just over two minutes into the third period Kessel once again broke in alone, but shot high and wide.
The Century Club
Maple Leafs defenceman Paul Ranger's second goal of the season
made it 4-2 for Toronto early in the second period. It was the 100th point of his NHL career. Although Ranger has been the target of the boo birds at times this season, the crowd gave him a rousing ovation.
Hitting the 100 point plateau took Ranger by surprise.
"I didn't even know about it," Ranger said. "One of the guys told me on the bench. I think it's pretty cool. It's a milestone. I it."
Ranger has played the past three games after missing five -- two with injury and three as a healthy scratch. He was pleased with his overall effort against Carolina.
"Just playing an overall consistent game is the most satisfying feeling," Ranger said. "The goal is a bonus."
The Canadian women's Olympic hockey team was introduced to the fans prior to the start of the game. To nobody's surprise the loudest cheer was reserved for veteran Hayley Wickenheiser. The 35-year-old of Shaunavon, Sask., will be competing in her fifth Winter Olympics
in Sochi, Russia in February and is striving for her fourth Olympic gold medal.
It's Bernie's crease for now
Goalie Jonathan Bernier made his third consecutive start for the Maple Leafs. James Reimer started against Detroit Dec. 21, but was pulled in the first period after allowing three goals. Upon returning to the bench for the second period, Reimer shot coach Carlyle a dirty look that was shown repeatedly on TV. He has not played since.
Bernier said he feels he is starting to get into a groove having played three games in a row,
"Yeah, definitely," he said. "I had a good practice yesterday and coming back after three days off I felt I needed to see some shots."
That he did. The Hurricanes out-shot the Maple Leafs 43-27.
Veteran defenceman Mike Komisarek played his first game against his former team since joining the Carolina Hurricanes as a free agent last summer. Komisarek spent a couple of miserable seasons in Toronto where he was never embraced by Leafs Nation. He was a healthy scratch the first time Carolina visited Toronto Oct. 17.
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