The Toronto Maple Leafs did not put up much of a fight on the scoreboard, the shot meter or for puck possession in their visit with the San Jose Sharks. They preferred to have their fists do the talking Tuesday, March 11.
Could this be why they have not won a Stanley Cup playoff series since 2006? It is certainly why most of the pictured stars of the game played for San Jose, which remained focused on closing to within two points of the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks.
Meanwhile, the distraction of bravado resulted in no points for Toronto, which no longer projects to get home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs against its bitter Original Six rival Montreal Canadiens. At least hitting with the body (19-14 edge in hits) more might have been in order given how much time was spent defending.
Better yet, how about fighting for the puck (28-48 faceoffs, 13-18 in giveaways but 5-13 in takeaways)? Maybe the Maple Leafs could have thrown more shots toward the net (90-35 in attempts and 48-21 on goal for the Sharks) had they had the puck more.
Worse, they won only one fight according to votes on hockeyfights.com—the spirited bout between Tim Gleason and Andrew Desjardins, who took down David Clarkson in the couple seconds his second tilt was caught on camera. That fight had too few votes to call a winner.
Things got grotesque when Dion Phaneuf tried to draw the soft and fragile Martin Havlat into a fight in the final four minutes. Tommy Wingels came to his support, clearly beating Joffrey Lupul and questioning if his pacifist teammate even has 100 penalty minutes in his career (he has 392 in 733 games) in the post-game broadcast on CSN California.
Seriously, Elisha Cuthbert can do better than Phaneuf. Or maybe not since she was with worse before him.
Perhaps the fact that their captain would stoop to such bullying—usually the result of insecurity—has something to do with their errant focus in this game. The first fight came on the faceoff after the Maple Leafs tied the game thanks to Havlat's second giveaway in two shifts; he had another the next time he took the ice. This one was at the offensive blue line and led to a two-on-one rush that ended with Jake Gardiner redirecting a Mason Raymond feed past Antti Niemi.
That score was just 25 seconds after Matt Nieto retrieved the puck deep in the attack zone and fed a pinching Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the high slot for the one-timer goal. Toronto's response sucked the wind out of San Jose's sails, but Troy Brodie losing the ensuing bout to Mike Brown restored it.
At that point, the Sharks only had a 3-2 edge in shots and 4-3 in attempts. The game was about as even as it gets until their foes forgot the goal was to score goals, not blows. The only area of the game the Leafs did well was shot-blocking (25-7) and the penalty kill, and the latter was more the ineptitude of the opposing power play.
About five minutes after the fight, Wingels clearly put a backhand past James Reimer, but the official ruled intent to blow the whistle. This goes beyond a rule that ranks high among all the dumb ones in the NHL, like a point system that gives teams with more games higher standing, pinning the instigator penalty on the first to toss the gloves instead of the player whose despicable action necessitates it, allowing players that continually risk others to continue to play...
This is not even just about the league wanting more scores as broadcasters Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda mentioned. For that, they could add four words to the instruction for referees to blow the whistle as soon as they lose sight of the puck around the goal: "wait a second, then...". The bigger point is that everyone plays until they hear the whistle, and every other sport understands this.
Moreover, the puck was in the net for almost two seconds before the whistle—how long does it take him to put it to his mouth? Finally, why was the play reviewed if this non-reviewable rule was being invoked?
Wingels should have two more goals than his statistics indicate because it is the second time he has been hosed in the 2013-14 NHL season. At least this time, it did not affect the standings.
The goal he was not credited with earlier this season cost San Jose one point and one more regulation/overtime win. This one may not have even mattered in the goal differential tiebreak, because the next one to go for video confirmation could have been disallowed before it even was reviewed.
True, Joe Thornton was pushed into the crease by a Toronto defender. That does not give him license to push Reimer down with both hands after the contact is over, leaving the goalie scrambling to get up, locate the puck and stop the shot that Brent Burns ripped when getting possession.
It was not the wrong call to let that flurry of shot attempts go—three in 14 seconds not counting all those unsuccessfully trying to get attempts off. At the same time, they could have ruled either a non-penalty interference or even assessed a minor.
The Sharks finished the period with a 14-6 edge in shots, and that was their worst period differential of the game. Before seven minutes passed in the second period, Wingels got a goal that counted by deflecting in a Justin Braun shot. Thornton took the puck from Dan Boyle and put a cross-ice feed on Joe Pavelski's stick 79 second later and the rout was on.
The Maple Leafs did not even spend seven minutes trying to respond on the scoreboard before throwing up their hands—in fisticuffs rather than surrender. In the first five minutes of the third period, Pavelski got his second goal of the game on a sweet cross-ice feed Jason Demers sent after barely keeping the puck in the zone. (Thornton got the secondary assist for battling for possession after a lost faceoff.)
This time it took Toronto 10 minutes to pick a fight, and while it got them an extra man in the penalty box it did work out for them. A passive power play allowed Raymond to carry the puck from deep in his own zone well into San Jose's, where he fed the wide-open trailer Gardiner for a second goal of the game.
Havlat answered 97 seconds later by cleaning up a loose puck after both Wingels and James Sheppard (with his second assist and seventh point in eight games) tried but failed to get it to the net. Phaneuf was pushing for a fight 23 seconds later, and no more real hockey was played.
In the end, the Sharks deserve credit for keeping the pressure on, sticking up for themselves without losing sight of the real objective and dominating play outside of their suddenly pathetic power play. If they can turn that one thing around, they will be ready for their most serious Stanley Cup run ever.