TORONTO – It was just a week ago that Clarke MacArthur was demoted to the Toronto Maple Leafs fourth line. Now he’s scoring big goals again for a team making a push for the playoffs.
MacArthur brought the Air Canada Centre to its feet on Wednesday by scoring late in the third period as the Maple Leafs squeezed past the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0.
The winger has four goals and six points in three games since being reunited with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. Prior to that, he saw a season-low 9:58 of ice time on Jan. 23 as coach Ron Wilson tried to deliver a message.
“It was a bit of a wakeup call and he’s responded very well,” said Wilson.
The Leafs themselves managed a good response after blowing a 4-1 lead to Pittsburgh a night earlier and losing 5-4 in a shootout. It was their biggest collapse of the season.
However, the players were able to take the positives out of their effort on Tuesday and held tough in the second half of a back-to-back.
“I thought it was a harder-fought game tonight,” said MacArthur. “It felt like a playoff game. There wasn’t much given up on either side. You know, it was just nice to see our team (stick) with it. It’s easy to get frustrated.
“We stuck with it and got the win.”
The game was low on style points, but that mattered little to a Leafs team only concerned with adding points in the Eastern Conference standings. They are in the thick of playoff race and moved past the New Jersey Devils into seventh place.
James Reimer stopped all 25 shots to deliver a victory in just his second start of 2012. The man who entered the season as Toronto’s No. 1 goalie was pleased with his performance.
“I really wanted to get this win,” said Reimer. “It’s been a tough little last couple weeks or whatever. Things really haven’t gone my way, I felt like I was playing well and just wasn’t getting the bounces. Tonight I got a lot of bounces.
“It was just nice to have everything fall into place and just be on the winning side when the buzzer went.”
The Leafs and Penguins appeared to be headed to overtime for the second straight night until MacArthur finally broke through. He took a pass from Grabovksi and deked around Brent Johnson at 13:55 of the third period, touching off a big celebration on the ice and in the stands.
From there, Reimer closed the door as the Penguins were held off the scoreboard for just the second time this season. It was their first loss in nine games.
“I just think it was a little bit tighter checking of a game and that nullified some of the speed on both teams,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “There wasn’t near as much room out there to play the game tonight and as a result, there weren’t as many opportunities and scoring chances.”
Both coaches were left with some defensive concern after Tuesday night’s game at Consol Energy Center and urged their players to tighten up.
They responded with the kind of game where neither team looked willing to take chances. Even with NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin on the ice, there were very few dangerous rushes at either end of the ice.
“That was a playoff game,” said Leafs defenceman Cody Franson. “That’s tight-checking, hard-hitting, a lot of chip and run. It was fast-paced out there and it stayed tight right until the end.
“That’s playoff hockey in a nutshell.”
Ultimately, it was a game calling for a big play.
MacArthur provided many of those during a career season a year ago but has endured some struggles this season. An eight-game stretch without a point preceded his recent stint on the fourth line—although Wilson indicated that move had little do to with scoring.
“I wanted to get Clarke … winning battles on the boards, but more than anything, moving his feet and becoming part of the forecheck,” said Wilson. “He had gotten away from (it).”
The winger was leading the charge on Wednesday night and made a nice move on Johnson before scoring his 16th goal of the season. Not only did it deliver some relief for him personally, but it also boosted the spirits of his teammates after Tuesday’s tough loss.
“Just how we felt after last game, to come back and answer like we did—that’s a lot of character in here,” said MacArthur. “To get three out of four against a team like that that was rolling. Obviously, you’d like all four but it doesn’t work that way.
“It was just a good answer back tonight.”
Notes: Toronto improved its record to 26-19-6 while the Penguins fell to 29-18-4 … In 19 career games against the Leafs, Malkin has nine goals and 38 points … Mike Komisarek and Jay Rosehill were scratched for Toronto. … Pittsburgh claimed centre Cal O’Reilly on waivers Wednesday but he didn’t dress … Announced attendance was 19,542.