TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs have been locked in the Eastern Conference basement for almost two months, but coach Ron Wilson doesn’t think the team is as far-removed from the pack as it seems.
The Leafs missed an opportunity to get within a point of Florida and Tampa Bay for 14th place in the conference when Miroslav Satan scored 3:25 into overtime on Saturday night to give the Boston Bruins a 2-1 victory. It was the 22nd game Toronto has had decided in overtime or a shootout and 14 of them have been losses.
“That’s an indication of how close we are to becoming a more competitive team,” said Wilson. “I guess we’ve lost 14 (in extra time) – we win half of those and tonight’s game would have had an entirely different meaning. If we had seven more goals in those games.
“We’re a lot closer than it would appear.”
For now, they remain exactly where the Bruins want them.
Boston owns Toronto’s first-round pick from the Phil Kessel trade and stands to have a good chance of drafting either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin in June. With three games remaining in the regular season, the Leafs currently sit 29th in the overall standings – a spot that would give Boston an 18.8 per cent of winning the first overall pick in the draft lottery.
That wouldn’t be such a concern if the team had fared better in overtime and shootout games. The Leafs are 7-2 in extra time since the Olympic break, but left a lot of potential points on the table prior to that.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t get that second point earlier in the season and now it’s costing us,” said defenceman Francois Beauchemin.
On the winner, Satan fooled Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavsson by getting the shaft of his stick on a Zdeno Chara point shot. The puck dipped before crossing the goal-line.
It was an important victory for the Bruins, who remain in seventh place in the Eastern Conference – two points up on Philadelphia and the hard-charging New York Rangers.
“Those two points, at the end of the season, will be a big help for us,” said Satan.
The veteran forward had both goals for Boston (36-30-12), which has scored just five times in its past four games.
Colton Orr replied for the Maple Leafs (29-36-14).
It was another frustrating game for Kessel, who spent time in the dressing room during the third period with what Wilson called “a cramp.” The winger failed to score in six games against his former team and finished with just one assist and a minus-5 rating against the Bruins this season.
Kessel declined interview requests after the game.
The Leafs came out with plenty of jump in their second-last home game of the season. They directed a couple quality chances at former Toronto draft pick Tuukka Rask and got the opening goal from an unlikely source.
Orr scored from the high slot at 5:10 of the first, roofing the puck after it had been blocked in front by a Bruins defenceman. That gave the Leafs tough guy a career-best four goals on the season.
“It would have been better with a win,” he said.
The turning point seemingly came during the first intermission, when the Bruins had a fairly heated discussion about how poorly they were playing. Satan would score the equalizer at 8:01 of the second period.
“You can imagine what was said (in the dressing room),” said Rask. “We know when we play good and when we play bad, so we knew that that wasn’t appropriate for us.”
With four games remaining and a slight cushion in the standings, they appear likely to qualify for the post-season.
The victories haven’t all been pretty of late, but that is of little concern to the Bruins. All that matters to them at the moment is what the standings say.
“We were sluggish tonight, we had a slow start and we looked like we were skating in quicksand in the first period,” said Boston coach Claude Julien. “But I thought we worked through it and we ended up with the win.”
Notes: Defenceman Andrew Bodnarchuk of Drumheller, Alta., made his NHL debut for the Bruins wearing No. 65. … Jamie Lundmark, Wayne Primeau and Jeff Finger were healthy scratches for Toronto. … Andrew Ference, Shawn Thornton, Trent Whitfield and Mark Stuart sat out for the Bruins. … Boston defenceman Dennis Seidenberg left the game in the first period with a cut on his left wrist and didn’t return. … Leafs rookie forward Tyler Bozak has 13 points in his past 13 games. … Announced attendance was 19,273.