TORONTO – A smile creased Frazer McLaren’s face at his locker stall, but the tell-tale scars of past stitches were hard to miss.
The super-sized Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer registered a different knockout blow of sorts Saturday night, making the most of his five minutes 41 seconds of playing time by jamming in the winning goal in a 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins.
And the six-foot-five 230-pounder did it in style.
After linemate Colton Orr got him the puck at the edge of the crease early in the third period, McLaren found himself running out of room. Trying to go to the backhand, he ended up tucking the puck between his legs, off his right skate and through the legs of goalie Anton Khudobin at 1:34.
“It’s a great play by a big man,” said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle.
McLaren was clearly enjoying talking about scoring rather than knocking an opponent out with one punch, as he did earlier this season when he floored Ottawa’s Dave Dziurzynski.
It was his third goal of the season and the fourth of his NHL career.
“You’ve got to work to be in the lineup every night and I’ve sat (out) a couple of the last few games,” McLaren said. “Any time you can contribute, especially on the scoresheet and it turns out to be a game-winner, it’s a good confidence boost. “
The goal, at 1:30 of the third period, gave the Leafs a 3-0 lead and turned out to be the winner after the Bruins mounted a late comeback.
The two teams go at it again Monday in Boston.
“We have three more periods in a very tough building where we haven’t had success before and it’s going to take a more intense effort than we had tonight to go in there and have success,” said Carlyle.
The Bruins (20-7-3) had won their last eight games against the Leafs, dating back to the 2010-11 season. Toronto’s last victory over Boston was March 31, 2011—a 4-3 shootout decision.
“We were getting pretty sick and tired of it so I’m glad we changed that tonight,” said Toronto centre Nazem Kadri, who continued his hot hand with the opening goal.
The Leafs (17-12-3) did a lot with a little offence in a game that saw both teams misfire. They had four shots in the first period, five in the second and four in the third but managed to score a goal in each.
James Reimer was busy as Boston outshot Toronto 33-13.
“When you win a hockey game and you only get 13 shots and the opposition gets 33, I don’t think you can really say that was your game plan,” Carlyle said dryly.
Toronto coughed up the puck 16 times but made up for it with 31 blocked shots and 38 hits.
“We were opportunistic and we got some timely goals,” he added.
The Leafs also got some emotion from the fourth line of Orr, McLaren and Jay McClement.
“It’s nice to see those guys rewarded for their hard work and it’s always good for your team morale when those guys can make a contribution,” the coach said.
Mikhail Grabovski also scored for Toronto before 19,236 at the Air Canada Centre.
Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference, with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker, replied for the Bruins.
“It wasn’t there for the first 40 (minutes),” Seidenberg said. “But when we did get desperate you see how we can play. It doesn’t really help playing that way when you’re down 3-0. We got to start playing that way at the beginning of the game.”
The Boston offence has been spotty of late. The Bruins wrapped up their four-game road trip with a 1-3-0 record and just five goals scored while going 0-for-9 on the power play.
Kadri, who came into the game 10th in league scoring with 33 points (13 goals and 20 assists), has three goals and six assists in his last four games.
Toronto, which came into the game having won just one of its last seven, looked sloppy for much of the evening. But the Leafs somehow emerged with two points.
“The bottom line is we won the hockey game,” said Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf. “It’s a big win for our team.
“Now we refocus, we regroup and we get ready for Monday.”
Kadri opened the scoring at 4:58 with his 14th of the season, beating Khudobin on a low shot after a nifty pass from Clarke MacArthur went under Seidenberg’s stick and found the red-hot Leaf. John-Michael Liles triggered the play with a quick pass up the wing.
Two seconds after the ensuing faceoff, Orr and Shawn Thornton squared off with the Leafs bruiser winning a lengthy fight. Orr pushed Toronto’s league-leading number of fighting majors to 33.
The goal marked the first time Toronto had led Boston since Oct. 20, 2011 when Dave Steckel scored the opening goal in a 6-2 loss.
Grabovski made it 2-0 at Toronto’s first shot of the second period at 2:52 after flying past Milan Lucic. The Belarusian eluded defenceman Mark Bartkowski and then had a little luck as the puck bounced back to him off another Bruin before he fired a wrist shot home for his eighth of the season. It was his second goal in as many games after a 10-game drought.
Boston coach Claude Julien replaced Khudobin with Tukka Rask after the third goal.
“The way we gave up the three goals—they were mistakes,” said Julien. “The last goal was a weak goal and I had to give our team a jolt somehow, so I put Tuukka in their and we seemed to turn the corner and play a bit more of our game, but we shouldn’t wait for that to happen.”
Boston got on the board at 2:30 when Seidenberg’s shot from the point trickled through a screened Reimer. The Bruins came on hard after that, hitting the post twice. Ference cut the lead to 3-2 at 18:44 with Rask on the bench for an extra attacker.
The Bruins were playing without injured defencemen Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid.
Toronto’s Liles left the game in the second period after a sliding Daniel Paille hit him at the boards. He suffered what was termed a lower-body injury and did not return.
Carlyle said X-rays were negative, meaning it was more of a sprain than anything broken or torn.
Linesman Mark Shewchyk also had a tough night, crashing in the corner boards after his skate tangled with that of Dion Phaneuf.
NOTES—The Leafs honoured former captain Mats Sundin before the game. Sundin, a member of the 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame induction class who was slated to be feted during one of the games eliminated by the lockout, dropped the ceremonial puck. Fans showed the big Swede lots of love every time he was shown on the video screen.