By HOWARD BERGER
TAMPA (Nov. 22) – The Maple Leafs’ goaltending flavor-of-the-week is clearly Jonas Gustavsson, and just in the nick of time.
As if to make up for all the miserable nights in front of him the past two seasons, the Monster’s Leaf teammates have gorged on the opposition during his pair of starts this week: earning identical 7-1 victories over Washington at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday and the Lightning here in Tampa on Tuesday. What a way to rescue a guy’s career.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson put Gustavsson between the pipes on Saturday for one reason and one reason only: the club had to play a road game at Carolina less than 24 hours later. Now, the Swedish-born goalie may be a fixture until James Reimer returns, likely sometime in the next 10 days. That relegates Ben Scrivens to No. 3 in the organization once again… at least until Gustvasson serves up another dog’s breakfast. Given, however, that he could have allowed six goals in each of his starts this week and still won in regulation time, you have to think the Monster is gaining a wee bit of confidence in himself, and those around him. When the Leafs can put up a converted touchdown without a single tally from the NHL’s leading goal-getter (Phil Kessel), the offense is in another realm.
Marv Levy, the old football coach, once famously said, “Depth is great on a team, until you have to use it.” Wilson may not adhere to that philosophy, given contributions the past week from such unheralded sources as Joey Crabb, David Steckel, Matt Frattin, Joe Colborne (the latter two with their first NHL goals; Colborne scoring his here in Tampa), Cody Franson (his first goal as a Leaf on Saturday), and Tyler Bozak – scoring twice against the Lightning, now with three goals and three assists in the past four games while centering the club’s top forward unit between Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.
Most of this has occurred without Mikhail Grabovski; Clarke MacArthur (who returned last night after a three-game injury absence and opened the scoring at 41 seconds of the first period); Colby Armstrong, whose tenacity often leads to opportunities for his teammates and – ostensibly – Nikolai Kulemin, who hasn’t found the net in more than a month, and is stuck on two goals for the season after netting 30 a year ago.
Imagine if these guys were at full strength up front.
Leafs have two games remaining on this trip – at Dallas and Anaheim – spread over the next five days. It will give the players a rare opportunity to catch their breath between starts.
Now, my photo-review of the 7-1 Leafs romp here in Tampa:
AS THE TEAMS WARMED UP (ABOVE) NO ONE HAD AN INKLING HOW ONE-SIDED THE GAME WOULD BE.
THE OFFICIATING CREW OF REFEREES DAN O’ROURKE AND TOM KOWAL; LINESMEN BRIAN MURPHY AND PIERRE RACICOT WAS CAREFUL NOT TO LOOK UP INTO A BRIGHT-RED FLOOD-LIGHT DURING THE NATIONAL ANTHEMS.
THE LEAFS DID SUCH A FINE JOB OF SCREENING DWAYNE ROLOSON IN THE FIRST PERIOD, YOU COULDN’T SEE THE TAMPA BAY GOALIE FROM THE PRESS BOX. JOE COLBORNE (ABOVE) AND JOFFREY LUPUL (BELOW) WERE IN ROLOSON’S GRILL.
ROOKIE DEFENSEMAN JAKE GARDINER TOOK OFF WITH THE PUCK (AS ABOVE) QUITE OFTEN AGAINST THE LIGHTNING – SKATING WITH CONFIDENCE AND DRAWING A HOOKING PENALTY IN THE THIRD PERIOD.
ROLOSON’S BODY-LANGUAGE TELLS THE STORY (ABOVE) AS THE LEAFS CONGRATULATE TIM CONNOLLY FOR SCORING WHAT PROVED TO BE THE GAME-WINNER – ON THE POWERPLAY – AT 17:56 OF THE FIRST PERIOD. IT GAVE TORONTO A 2-1 LEAD; TYLER BOZAK ADDED ANOTHER EXTRA-MAN GOAL 1:26 LATER AND THE VISITORS TOOK A 3-1 EDGE INTO THE INTERMISSION.
THE PRESS BOX AT THE ST. PETE TIMES FORUM WAS LOADED WITH HOCKEY PEOPLE, INCLUDING SCOTTY BOWMAN (ABOVE RIGHT), THE NHL’S ALL-TIME COACHING LEADER, STILL A VALUED CONSULTANT WITH THE CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS. AND HOW ABOUT THE BIG PAISANO (BELOW) – HALL-OF-FAME SCORING STAR PHIL ESPOSITO – RADIO COLOR-MAN FOR THE LIGHTNING, WHO TOLD ME HOW DEAD-TIRED HE WAS ON THIS NIGHT BUT STILL LOOKED SHARP THREE MONTHS SHY OF HIS 70th BIRTHDAY.
SPEAKING OF LOOKING SHARP, FORMER LEAFS GM JOHN FERGUSON (ABOVE) HAD THE CRISP SUIT-AND-TIE GOING WHILE SCOUTING THE MATCH FOR THE SAN JOSE SHARKS.
THEY SURE LOVE SPOT-LIGHTS HERE IN TAMPA. THE SECOND PERIOD BEGINS (ABOVE) AMID HEIGHTENED ILLUMINATION.
MARKHAM, ONTARIO’S STEVEN STAMKOS ALMOST ALWAYS HAS SOMETHING UP HIS SLEEVE FOR THE TEAM HE GREW UP WATCHING, BUT WAS BARELY NOTICEABLE IN THIS GAME, DESPITE A DECENT CHANCE IN THE SECOND PERIOD (ABOVE).
IN THE RARE MOMENTS JONAS GUSTAVSSON HAD TO FIGHT THROUGH TRAFFIC IN FRONT OF HIS GOAL, RYAN MALONE OF TAMPA BAY (ABOVE) WAS OFTEN IN THE MIX.
LEAFS HAD NO TROUBLE SCORING IN THIS GAME, DESPITE A QUIET NIGHT FROM THE NHL’s LEADING GOAL-GETTER, PHIL KESSEL (ABOVE), WHO HAD MULTIPLE FAMILY MEMBERS IN THE BUILDING. LOOKING PENSIVE A FEW SEATS TO MY RIGHT IN THE PRESS BOX (BELOW) WERE CALL-UP DEFENSEMAN KORBINIAN HOLZER (FOREGROUND) AND INJURED GOALIE JAMES REIMER.
IT WAS VERY HUMID HERE IN TAMPA ON TUESDAY AND QUITE WARM IN THE ARENA, AS EVIDENCED BY SLOW FREEZING OF THE RE-SURFACED ICE (ABOVE) PRIOR TO THE THIRD PERIOD.
VETERAN STALWARTS OF THE LIGHTNING – MARTIN ST. LOUIS AND VINCENT LECAVALIER (IN FACE-OFF STANCE ABOVE) – HAD SOME FIRST-PERIOD CHANCES BUT WERE GENERALLY KEPT AWAY FROM THE VISITORS’ NET.
IT WAS A LONG, MISERABLE NIGHT FOR COACH GUY BOUCHER AND THE LIGHTNING (ABOVE). BY THE THIRD PERIOD, EVEN LEAF FANS IN ATTENDANCE (BELOW) HAD GROWN BORED.
ALMOST ALL MAPLE LEAF STICKS SHONE ON THIS NIGHT, EVEN THAT BELONGING TO CAPTAIN DION PHANEUF (ABOVE).
LEAFS PADDED THEIR LEAD IN THE THIRD PERIOD… JOFFREY LUPUL (ABOVE) IS GREETED BY DAVID STECKEL (20), KESSEL (81), CLARKE MacARTHUR (16) AND MATT FRATTIN (39) AFTER HIS THIRD-PERIOD GOAL, NUMBER 11 ON THE SEASON. JOEY CRABB FINISHED THE ONSLAUGHT LATER IN THE FINAL FRAME (BELOW).
JAY ROSEHILL KEPT A CLOSE EYE (ABOVE) ON EX-LEAF DEFENSEMAN PAVEL KUBINA DURING A BRIEF ALTERCATION LATE IN THE GAME. MEANWHILE, THE BIGGEST CHEER OF THE NIGHT FROM THE DESPONDENT HOME FANS OCCURRED 11 SECONDS PRIOR TO ME SNAPPING THE PHOTO, BELOW, AS THE FINAL MINUTE OF PLAY WAS ANNOUNCED.
WINNING GOALIE JONAS GUSTAVSSON IS MOBBED BY HIS JUBILANT TEAMMATES (ABOVE) AT THE FINAL BUZZER, AND THEN HAS TO WAIT (BELOW) AS BEN SCRIVENS AND JOE COLBORNE CONGRATULATE TYLER BOZAK ON HIS TWO-GOAL EFFORT.
THE MONSTER ENTERTAINED A PACK OF MEDIA (ABOVE) AFTER THE GAME, WHILE JOE COLBORNE – NICKED UP A BIT – STILL FELT MORE-THAN WELL ENOUGH TO OFFER ME A SMILE (BELOW) AFTER NOTCHING HIS FIRST NHL GOAL.