In what has been described as the single toughest five-game road stretch for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, they got off to a favorable start by beating a Stanley Cup favorite.
The Maple Leafs got three points each from centre Tyler Bozak and right-wing Phil Kessel in a hard-fought 3-1 win over the Ducks in Anaheim. Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier turned in one of his best performances of the season to help secure the victory.
It was Toronto coach Randy Carlyle's first return to Anaheim after helping the Ducks win the Stanley Cup in 2007.
"There is satisfaction when you beat your former hockey club," Carlyle admitted. "I'm not going to hide that fact. I feel good about it."
The Maple Leafs continue their western swing Tuesday night with a game in San Jose and then play the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday. The three California-based teams had a combined 67-19-9 home record heading into Monday's Anaheim-Toronto meeting.
Toronto played superbly through the first half of the game at the Honda Center, building a 3-0 lead. They even out-shot Anaheim 11-9 in the first period and you don't see that very often.
When they slipped against the mighty Ducks, Bernier bailed them out; right up until 14:19 of the second when Corey Perry, in the midst of a an unstoppable shift, drew his team to within two by tapping a rebound home for his 35th goal of the season.
With a goal and two assists Bozak now has 29 points in his last 26 games since returning from a month off with an oblique strain. He came very close to adding a second goal 2:42 into the third period when he broke in alone, but failed to connect.
All you need is glove
Bernier made a highlight reel glove save snagging a Bryan Allen wrist shot from the slot at 6:11 to keep the game scoreless. With his team ahead 3-1 in the second period, Bernier flashed his glove again, this time stumping Patrick Maroon with a blast from the slot.
Toronto left-winger James van Riemsdyk stripped Anaheim defenceman Ben Lovejoy of the puck and broke in alone, but was tripped. On what should probably have been a penalty shot, referee Frederick L'Ecuyer opted to send Lovejoy off for tripping and the Ducks killed the penalty.
2nd time lucky
The Maple Leafs went back to the power play late in the first when Anaheim veteran Saku Koivu tripped Jay McClement. Not long afterwards Toronto defender Dion Phaneuf worked the puck down low and made a pinpoint pass to Bozak who tipped home his 15th goal of the season.
Kessel continued his ascent toward the top of the NHL's scoring parade a little under three minutes later. Taking the puck from Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf, Kessel broke away splitting defencemen Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm. Kessel took a snap shot (big surprise!) that goaltender Frederik Andersen stopped. The momentum of the puck, however, carried it into the net.
Early in the second period Toronto defenceman Paul Ranger made his second huge shot block of the game, this one off Anaheim winger Teemu Selanne. That allowed Kessel to take off with the puck and Ranger got up and followed. Kessel had a good shooting opportunity, but elected to slide a pass to his defenceman at the Anaheim net and Ranger notched his fourth goal of the season.
"Paul Ranger has played very well since we've platooned him with the seven D," Carlyle said. "He has made a contribution. He is a big, strong man and that's the type of hockey we envisioned him playing."
Rock 'em, sock 'em
After missing Saturday's game against Philadelphia with a pulled muscle, right-winger David Clarkson returned to the lineup against the Ducks. That put Carter Ashton in the press box.
Clarkson, who is six-feet, 200-pounds, engaged in a first period fight against six-foot-two, 205-pound Lovejoy and even though he was cut in the bout, he landed the heavier punches against the visor-wearing Duck.
In the second period, Clarkson took on six-foot-five, 224-pound Bryan Allen and again landed the better punches.
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