TORONTO – It was the kind of Michael Ryder moment the Boston Bruins have been waiting for.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were pressing for the equalizer during the second period of Monday’s game and it seemed only a matter of time before they would get it. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Ryder raced into the Leafs end, dragged the puck around a defender and buried a high wrist shot to help carry the Bruins to yet another victory.
It was the kind of goal he was known for during his best seasons in Montreal.
However, it was just the third time he’s scored since joining Boston during the off-season so his new teammates were especially pleased to see the puck go in.
“We all know that he can score goals,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said after the 3-2 victory. “He needs to just find that zone where he’s going to really be playing with a lot of confidence. It’s good that he scored tonight.
“Anytime that you see a guy that’s supposed to score goals, score one, it’s good for the team.”
The goal proved particularly helpful on Monday because it gave the Bruins a big enough cushion to hold off a third-period rally by Toronto.
Ryder seems to have adjusted comfortably to life in Beantown since signing a US$12-million, three-year deal on July 1. However, after four seasons with the Habs, he admits that he’s still getting used to a new system and some different teammates.
Ultimately, he expects things to work out.
“I think it’s a good fit,” said Ryder.
At least one thing should be familiar – his team currently leads the Northeast Division and is hovering near the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins are quietly off to an 11-3-4 start that has seen them lose just one game all season by more than a goal. They weren’t overly impressive in Monday’s win over the Leafs but coach Claude Julien will gladly take the two points anyway.
“We’ve been playing a lot of hockey and I sense a little mental fatigue on our part,” said Julien. “We’re in a stretch of 10 (games) in 18 (nights) so we’re going to be in for a tough ride.”
The Maple Leafs had some fatigue issues of their own.
The team returned home from a swing through Western Canada about 24 hours before the start of the game and it showed during a sluggish start.
They didn’t get much help from goaltender Vesa Toskala either. He was particularly shaky during the first period, letting a soft shot from Phil Kessel go through his legs at 9:40 and giving up a big rebound to Matt Hunwick before he scored his first NHL goal at 13:18.
Things settled down after that.
“Unfortunately, the first goal was obviously stopable and beyond that, I can’t complain about our compete level,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson.
Kessel, Hunwick and Ryder scored for the Bruins while Marc Savard and Milan Lucic each had two assists.
Jason Blake and Mikhail Grabovski replied for Toronto (7-8-4), which has just two wins in its last eight games.
With Boston leading 2-0 late in the first period, Blake gave the home side some momentum. He took a nifty bank pass off the end boards from Ian White and wired a shot over Tim Thomas at 17:51.
Toronto had several chances to tie the game after that. The Maple Leafs were given three straight power plays – including 21 seconds with a 5-on-3 advantage – but couldn’t get another shot past Thomas, who made saves while flopping all over his crease.
“The puck just didn’t go in and obviously Thomas made some – well, he found pucks in scrambly areas I didn’t think he could see,” said Wilson.
Then came Ryder’s back-breaker.
The streaky winger made a great move to get around Leafs defenceman Pavel Kubina before beating Toskala at 14:11 of the second period to make it 3-1. It brought back memories for at least one person in attendance.
“That’s the type of goal that we’ve seen Michael Ryder score many times,” said Julien, who has coached him on four different teams.
Toronto found its legs after Grabovski narrowed the lead at 8:53 of the third period. Niklas Hagman made a nice individual move to beat a defender and the puck found its way to a wide open Grabovski at the side of the goal. He promptly scored his ninth of the season.
However, there wouldn’t be another comeback on this night. Bruins defenceman Aaron Ward took a late penalty for cross-checking and the Leafs pulled Toskala, but Thomas stood tall during a late flurry.
He was thrilled when the horn finally sounded to end the game.
“You’re going to have to get (wins) all kinds of different ways,” said Thomas. “Is that the way we would have drawn it up? No.
“But we’re happy to get the two points and now we can go regroup.”
Notes: Announced attendance was 19,410 … UFC President Dana White and fighters Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn attended the game … It’s been 15 games since Toronto was last outshot by an opponent … White has points in seven of the eight games he’s dressed for the Leafs this season … Jonas Frogren was a healthy scratch for Toronto… Andrew Ference (leg) and Petteri Nokelainen (healthy) sat out for the Bruins … Claude Julien coached his 100th game for Boston.