Just like Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans have to hope the 8-1 loss on Thursday was not an indication of what this team is about, they also have to hope that the resilient Maple Leafs 4-3 come-from-behind win over the Washington Capitals was exactly an indication of their team’s mental makeup. Last night’s game showed the team fans must hope to see during a difficult postseason run.
Last night, the Maple Leafs bent but didn’t break. Led by their depth, llya Lyubushkin scored his second goal of the season and the third goal of his NHL career (he’s played 209 games). Other team heroes included Ilya Mikheyev and Jason Spezza, who both scored in the third period. Spezza’s game-tying goal came with less than a minute remaining.
Then, for good measure, Spezza and Alex Kerfoot both scored during the seven rounds of the game-ending shootout and rookie goalie Erik Kallgren stood as tall as tall could be by stopping six of seven Capitals bearing down on him during the game-deciding event.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the news emerging from the organization as well as some of the players who authored key roles in the game to help their team win the game.
Item One: Ondrej Kase Up for the Masterton Trophy
The Maple Leafs’ Ondrej Kase has been struggling to carve out an NHL hockey career in the most difficult of circumstances – he’s been all but devastated by concussion injuries. Earlier today, it was reported that he had been named the Maple Leafs nominee for the Masterton Trophy.
The Masterton Trophy is awarded each season to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. It was named after Bill Masterton, who was the only player in NHL history to die as a direct result of injuries suffered during a game.
Sadly, Kase is currently out with a concussion as his injury woes from the past few years continue to haunt him. Kase hasn’t played since March 19. However, when he has been able to play, he’s shown skill and determination.
Kase’s been dubbed Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe’s Swiss Army Knife because he can be used for so many different purposes. On the season, in 50 games, he has scored 14 goals and added 13 assists (for 27 points).
Item Two: Jason Spezza Still Has It When Called Upon
Jason Spezza’s been a healthy scratch so many times during the season that it seems he’s sitting as much as he’s playing. Last night he showed his value to the team. He’s almost unstoppable on the shootout, and he scored the game-tying goal with only 57 seconds left in the third period to push his team into overtime.
Actually, he scored two goals during the game, but one didn’t count because a teammate went offside. Saving his heroics to the dying seconds, he took a nice pass from Mikheyev for the goal.
The 38-year-old Spezza showed that his experience, hockey IQ, and skill can be really helpful to the Maple Leafs this season and perhaps more during the postseason. He now has scored 12 goals and added 12 assists (for 24 points) in 68 games played. Look for him to get some game action during the playoffs.
Item Three: Ilya Mikheyev Scores Number 20 on the Season
What happened to Ilya Mikeyev between last season and this season? Last season, he had plenty of chances but couldn’t score (he had seven goals in 54 games). This season, he’s had the same chances – maybe more – and he’s scoring (with 20 goals in 51 games). He simply is playing one solid game after another.
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In last night’s game, Ilya Mikheyev scored his 20th goal of the season and it came at a perfect time. That goal brought his team within one of the Capitals. He then added a helper on Spezza’s game-tying goal. About the only mistake I think he made was during the shootout. He didn’t rely on his speed to drive the net. Instead, he went away from his strength and gave the Capitals’ goalie a chance to react.
On the night, Mikheyev’s hard work helped lift his team from defeat to victory. Mikheyev has been outstanding this season and I’m hoping the Maple Leafs can find a way to re-sign him during the offseason. I can see him being part of the team for a long time.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Obviously, the Maple Leafs were a tired team last night. Still, they found a way to win. It was their final game of a tough road trip. It was the second of back-to-back games. They had a difficult travel day and got to bed at four in the morning on the day of the game. It was their third game in four nights.
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They were also playing a Capitals team fighting for its playoff life. With everything going against them, that they were able to pull out the win shows fight and determination. If the team can win one of their last two games, they will be able to hold off a hard-charging Tampa Bay Lightning team.
More strategically, they’ll hold onto the second spot in the Atlantic Division and the first-round, home-ice advantage in the first round that goes with it. It was a good game for the Maple Leafs.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf