TORONTO – Jean-Sebastien Giguere showed up for his first exhibition start in mid-season form. The same can’t be said for everyone else at Air Canada Centre on Friday night.
The Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender was solid in stopping 29 shots on Friday—but ended up on the wrong end of a 4-3 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers after being victimized by some strange bounces and a waived off goal in overtime that should have counted.
Giguere hadn’t played since helping Toronto win its regular-season finale last spring. He was sharp on his angles and made a number of tough saves while playing the entire game.
“I felt pretty good,” said Giguere. “My legs were there and I was seeing the puck really well. All together, even though there was a loss, I think there was a lot of positives to my game. It’s something to build on.”
With a 3-1 lead late in the third period, it appeared as though the Leafs were headed to a second victory in as many nights over Philadelphia. Two bouncing pucks changed that in a hurry—the first caromed off Philadelphia’s Nikolai Zherdev and in at 16:26 before the second skipped on to Danny Briere’s stick and over Giguere at 17:44.
It got even stranger in overtime.
Leafs forward Phil Kessel had the puck deflect off his arm before he batted it behind Michael Leighton 3:18 into the extra frame. However, the referee quickly waived it off because he thought it went off Kessel’s glove.
The call stood because the NHL doesn’t have video review during pre-season. The Leafs believe it should have counted.
“I knew it was a goal, but I guess he thought I threw it in,” said Kessel. “What are you going to do? Regular season, I figure they go upstairs.”
Leafs coach Ron Wilson was understanding when asked about the referee getting the call wrong.
“He was in the right position, but not to see what happened,” said Wilson. “It’s not really his fault. It’s just what happened.”
Philadelphia ended up winning in a shootout—with Claude Giroux and Briere both scoring on Giguere. Flyers goalie Brian Boucher stopped two of three Toronto shooters after replacing Leighton, who suffered a lower back injury.
It was a pretty wild ending to a game that started slowly.
Zherdev, with two, and Briere had the goals in regulation for the Flyers (2-0-1). Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Dion Phaneuf replied for Toronto (2-1-1).
The start for Giguere was the only one he is scheduled to get in Toronto’s opening five exhibition games. He made the most of it with some strong play and demonstrated his leadership after the game in talking about the unlikely loss.
“I think the last five minutes we stopped skating,” said Giguere. “We thought the game was in the bag. It’s a good example for a young group—hopefully we’ll get a lesson out of this one and move forward learning something.”
It’s an important season for the 33-year-old, who will battle Jonas Gustavsson for time in the Leafs crease. He’s entering the final year of his contract and hopes to re-establish himself as a top-flight goalie like he was while leading Anaheim to the Stanley Cup in 2007.
Wilson was happy with what he saw.”He might have tired out a little bit as the game went on,” he said. “But he performed well.”
It was also a pretty good night for Toronto’s newly formed top line of Versteeg, Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
They opened the scoring at 12:19 of the second period after some nice work on the power play. Versteeg took a backhand pass from Bozak and lifted a shot over Michael Leighton.
“I thought we worked really well together,” said Bozak. “Just on the power play, those two guys are so good with the puck I can just park in front and let them do the work.”
Kessel made it 2-0 at 13:30 of the second period after getting caught on a shift with energy line players Colton Orr and Wayne Primeau. The two checkers chased down the puck before the Leafs sniper slid it home from a tough angle.
A bit of bad luck ended Giguere’s bid for a shutout early in the third period. He appeared to trip while moving across his crease and Zherdev beat him at 1:46.
After Phaneuf made it 3-1 at 14:46 of the third period, the Flyers roared back to tie it. Despite the strange ending that followed, some of the Toronto players were looking at the bright side.
“Thank goodness it is pre-season right now,” said Versteeg. “If we gave those points away, I’d be right pissed off.”
Notes:The Leafs dressed 13 players who are likely to make their opening night roster … Eric Wellwood, the brother of former Leafs centre Kyle Wellwood, suited up for Philadelphia … Toronto sent Greg McKegg to the OHL’s Erie Otters, leaving 51 players in training camp … Announced attendance was 18,375—but there were plenty of empty seats.