Funny how a little thing like a win can bring a whole new atmosphere to a dressing room.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, who had lost four games in a row while falling out of a playoff position, scored a 3-2 shootout victory
over the New Jersey Devils on a rare Sunday night home game at Air Canada Centre and lo and behold there were smiles all around.
"The key is, it's an 82-game year," said Toronto left-winger James van Riemsdyk, who scored the only goal of the shootout to secure the win. "You have to try to find a way to stay on an even keel the whole way no matter if you lose eight in a row or win eight in a row. You've got to stay hungry, play hard and try to keep your confidence. That is something we're going to have to continue to do."
A number of Maple Leafs players - Mark Fraser, Tim Gleason, Tyler Bozak, Jerry D'Amigo and goalie James Reimer - missed the morning skate because they were ill. The team indicated they either had the flu or food poisoning. Bozak, D'Amigo and Gleason all played while Reimer served as backup goalie.
In another game in which the Maple Leafs were out-shot, 38-25 by a team that has precious few offensive players, Toronto coach Randy Carlyle was pleased to get two points. There is still room for improvement, but at least it snapped the losing streak.
"We can breathe," Carlyle said. "There has been a lot of gasping going on and even in this game there was a lot of gasping because of how tight it was."
Goal waved off
Toronto centre Tyler Bozak appeared to score his second goal of the night midway through the second period to seemingly put his team ahead 3-2, but it was waved off by referee Ghislain Heberet who indicated there was incidental contact on the goalie, Cory Schneider, by van Riemsdyk. The replay showed van Riemsdyk did not hit the goalie. It was not a good call.
"I was very surprised," van Riemsdyk said. "I looked at it on video between periods and I am still kind of wondering. He gave me his thoughts and I asked him if he could watch it after the game and maybe the next time he has one of our games he can apologize because that was pretty brutal. I didn't think I even touched him."
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle was also upset by the waved off goal, not only because it put the game in jeopardy for his team, but also because of the ill effect it had on his players.
"We had 15 scoring chances up to that point and for the next 12 minutes we didn't get any," Carlyle said. "It just shows the mental state and how fragile we were at that point. Hopefully this relieves a little bit of the stress that's involved for our hockey club and we can get back to playing the way we are capable of playing."
Carlyle would not go as far as saying he'd approve NHL coaches having the ability to challenge the officials' call the way it is done in the National Football League, but he made no bones about the fact this one was a muffed call.
"I just think in that situation specifically when you review it on video it's hard to take the side of the official," he said. "I don't know any other way to put it politely."
Paying the price
Toronto centre Nazem Kadri was shaken up midway through the first period when he dove to block a shot by New Jersey's Michael Ryder.
Kadri hopped for a few seconds, but stayed on the ice and actually generated a good rush at the end of the shift.
Close, but no...
Former Devil David Clarkson has had a monumentally tough time scoring this season, but made a nice rush with the puck early in the third period.
While flying up the ice on the right side, he made a nifty move to slither past New Jersey defender Eric Gelinas and managed a very good shot on goal that was turned back by Cory Schneider.
Clarkson is stalled with three goals and eight points in 34 games.
No. 68 in your program
The New Jersey Devils traditionally keep their jersey numbers for skaters between two and 29, thanks in large part because the team's veteran general manager, Lou Lamoriello, is old school. They made an exception for Jaromir Jagr, though, allowing him to wear the No. 68 that he has worn throughout his long and storied career.
Nearly 42 years old, Jagr leads the Devils in scoring even if he has slowed down a step of two. He remains one of the best players in the NHL at protecting the puck when he has it. Jagr tried to skate past Jake Gardiner early in the second period, but was stood up by the young Maple Leafs defenceman.
He didn't like the treatment he received and responded by cross-checking Gardiner in the face for which he was penalized.
Monkey off his back
New Jersey veteran left-winger Ryane Clowe finally scored his first goal as a Devil at 6:23 of the second period on a breakaway. He had five assists and was minus-5 in his first 15 games with his new team.