It was a tale of one team desperate to win to stay alive in playoff contention; the other the possibility for home ice; it was the Carolina Hurricanes who prevailed with a 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena Tuesday.
The Leafs on the second of back to backs, started with a whimper, showed flashes of brilliance but couldn’t solve the very disciplined Canes D or goaltender Petr Mrazek who was good when he had to be.
At the other end the struggling Garret Sparks once again failed to make ‘a save’ when the team needed it. He had some bad luck with a couple of fluky goals and a Dermott give away that lead to Jordan Staal’s third period marker. That entire aside, it has become crystal clear the back up goaltender position has to be a priority in the off season, especially noting how Frederik Andersen has been fatigued in the back half of the season. As a result of Babcock’s lack of confidence in Sparks he was left no choice but to run with Freddie.
It wasn’t all on Sparks with some sloppy play around him but it was still a very winnable game for the home side and the Leafs have a few day to recharge before heading to Boston.
Babcock mixed up a few of the lines to test a few different combinations that produced some interesting moments but still came up flat. He placed Marner with Matthews and Kapanen with Tavares and while 34 along with 91 have accelerated their intensity level the last few weeks they will still need to find a way to separate themselves from the blanket coverage they will receive from the Bruins.
The biggest adjustment the highly skilled Maple Leafs have experienced this season comes down to the fact that for most of their minor hockey careers they always had the puck and rarely had to chase it down. Welcome to the NHL with a league full of similar players and the reality is you have to go get it. They at times have shown a dogged determination to track the puck down and no game exemplified that more than the third period against Chicago a few weeks ago or in Calgary last month.
The frustration for the Leafs coaching staff is that level of compete is very much a part of this groups DNA but the onus is on the players to bring it for 60-minutes starting next week or as we’ve said before they’ll have months to think about it.