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Sports Shout out to Bozak in Maple Leafs' shootout win over Canucks

07:55  07 january  2018
07:55  07 january  2018 Source:   thestar.com

Five things to watch for with Leafs in second half of season

  Five things to watch for with Leafs in second half of season Their much needed — and well deserved — four-day Christmas break is over.Now, the Leafs assemble in Phoenix Wednesday to begin a post-Christmas break filled with promise and opportunities.Milestones . . . a home-heavy schedule . . . a chance to reclaim the second overall standing in the Eastern Conference . . . the Leafs can build some benchmark accomplishments over the next month or so and set themselves up for a strong finish to the season.Here are five things to watch for as the team comes out of the Christmas break:40 for Freddie?Goalie Frederik Andersen entered the break with 19 wins, third most in the NHL.

That would be Toronto prevailing 3-2 over the Canucks : second straight shootout win , second straight W in this nascent new year, with the team waist-deep into a crucial six-game homestand. Leaf Tyler Bozak buried the shootout winner against the Canucks at the ACC on Saturday night.

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Leaf Tyler Bozak celebrates after burying the shootout winner against the Canucks at the ACC on Saturday night.© Rick Madonik Leaf Tyler Bozak celebrates after burying the shootout winner against the Canucks at the ACC on Saturday night.

At precisely 7:16 p.m., January 6, 2018, Travis Dermott made his on-ice, in-game, NHL debut as a Toronto Maple Leaf.

Not the most important thing that happened Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre, of course. That would be Toronto prevailing 3-2 over the Canucks: second straight shootout win, second straight W in this nascent new year, with the team waist-deep into a crucial six-game homestand.

Tyler Bozak was the hero in the shootout again, as Toronto’s third sniper in the gimmick phase after Auston Matthews beat Jacob Markstrom between the wickets and Mitch Marner got stoned. At the other end, Freddie Andersen set aside two of three Canuck shooters, including hotshot Brock Boeser.

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By then, the game had worked up a head of steam. Which took a long time coming.

But still. A first-ever NHL point for Dermott, in his first ever NHL game, assisting on the late third-period goal by Bozak that brought Toronto into a 2-2 tie.

Not even the most eyeballs-on freshman among the players out there, was Dermott. That would have been rookie sensation Boeser, merely the top-scoring NHL freshman this year and top-scoring Vancouverite, by way of Burnsville, Minn. and the U.S. college program. Marquee matchup, as the encounter had been pumped, between last year’s Calder Trophy winner — Matthews — and the clear-cut favourite at the mid-point of 2017-18.

With last line change, Mike Babcock had the two young Americans — former world juniors teammates and two-thirds of a future U.S.A. Olympics troika, safe bet, once the NHL recovers its marbles and returns to the Games — going mano-a-mano, the Matthews unit head-to-head against Boeser, Thomas Vanek and Sam Gagner.

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And, yup, Boeser came just as advertised. He got the better of Matthews, at least until the halfway point of the third period; got the better of the Leafs, got the opening goal, hit both post and crossbar in overtime on what many — certainly Boeser — believed to be the game-winning goal.

Then he took a penalty for slashing Jake Gardiner’s hands, a hack that couldn’t be ignored. The Canucks locked it down for two minutes, atypically terrific on the PK all night.

We will return to scoresheet matters momentarily. First, a scrapbook keeper for the aforementioned Dermott. Just because.

A memorable night for the 20-year-old Marlies call-up, elevated into the lineup in lieu of Andreas Borgman — who, coach Babcock was quick to assure, “never did nothing wrong.”

And even if he had, can’t blame Toronto’s back-end deficiencies — ranked a middling 14th in team D across the league and casting about for stabilizing resolution on the injury-distorted blue line — on a Swedish import scrubeenie just three months into his own NHL career.

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Up into pressbox purgatory, though, went healthy scratch Borgman while his replacement pulled a No. 3 jersey over his head — a good D-man integer, last worn hereabouts by the unlamented Dion Phaneuf, who inhabited it for six seasons. Another Leaf lifetime. The scowling Toronto bench boss’ parting-shot advice to Dermott, delivered through the media earlier in the day, on how to make a good first impression. “As long as I don’t notice him.”

Don’t make me see you. Don’t make me wince. Don’t make me regret. What a pleasure it must be, playing for Babcock.

Closer to puck drop, Babcock observed that doubtless the 21-year-old from Newmarket — his parents in the crowd, as damn well they should be — would be shaking in his skates during the warmup, during the lineup introductions, during the national anthem. Hard to tell, from a distance; mostly Dermott did the swaying thing along with the rest of the Leafs at the bench.

With his parents watching, Dermott survived that first shift unscathed and safely invisible, thus drawing no coach’s wrath. Partnered with coach’s pet Roman Polak — Martin Marincin restored to the Marlies as another rejected fill-in for injured Nikita Zaitsev — Dermott was no more than an on-ice spectator to the most dramatic occurrence of the first period, watching Christopher Tanev collecting his teeth off the ice after a Polak shot hit him smack in the mouth.

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Dermott, summoned from the Marlies on Friday, only discovered upon arrival in the Toronto dressing room Friday that, gosh-golly, he was dressing against Vancouver. “I looked at the sheet on the board and (it) had my number up there. Nobody told me directly but, honestly, I think it was better finding out on my own.

“My stomach dropped just like yesterday when I was told I was practising with the guys. Right when I saw it I was, like, ‘Wow, this is really happening.’ ’’

A year ago, you will recall, the ongoing Leaf theme was wall-to-wall rookies, seven of them in the lineup usually, occasionally eight. They’ve all matriculated to sophomore status now, Borgman the only tender in the bunch now. So it was kind of sweet, going back to that all-agog sensation with a nouveau-Leaf, trying to crack the big club, which is a whole lot tougher these days than it was last season.

The second-round draft pick (34th) from 2015 has been biding his time in the AHL the past 18 months or so, just this past week named to the all-star team after 17 points in 26 games with the Marlies this year, and having acquitted himself quite nicely at Leaf camp this past September. A childhood buddy of Connor Brown — their pops are life-long pals. Thus, not feeling entirely out of place and stick-out alien in the locker room. “He’s going to be a good NHLer for a long time,” predicted Brown.

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Dermott rolled his eyes when someone suggested, well, it can’t be all that different making an NHL debut and making an AHL debut, as he had last year. “You don’t dream of playing in the AHL, right? You dream of being here.”

Yoked with righty Polak, Dermott got play his natural, left side. “He’s a good steady D-man. He talks a lot to me.” Really? Polak? The human clam? “He makes me feel comfortable,” Dermott added.

“You dream of being here. That’s the opportunity I get tonight. So I’m going to make the most of it, take everything in.”

Threw a couple of hits, at least, in what was a low-wattage game, dominated — if only in fits and starts — by the Leafs. Except the truly awfully Vancouver goaltending suddenly put some lead in its pencil, via Markstrom, who contended quite valiantly with the best Toronto could throw at him. Plenty of pressure from the Leafs but not quite enough, or at least not consistently. Continually drove or dumped the puck into the Vancouver zone but just as often found themselves having to wheel and chase back towards their own end.

Boeser broke the game’s cherry a tick under three minutes into the second period, beneficiary of an inept clearing pass by Connor Carrick, corralled at the Toronto blue line, Boeser snapping it short side past Andersen.

Morgan Rielly appeared to have tied it shortly afterwards on an innocent looking flutter-lob from the blue line that Markstrom mishandled, knocking it into his own net off the heel of his glove. The goal was challenged by Vancouver coach Travis Green and, upon rather lengthy review, the official word was the play had been offside, Rielly stepping over the blue line just before Zach Hyman had come back to clear the zone.

The Canucks, who arrived in Toronto on a 2-9-1 tailspin, have one of the worst penalty kills in the league, ranked 27th, but the Leafs could do little with their multiple opportunities. Instead, it was the Canucks who pounced on a five-on-three chance — Polak invited to take a two-minute seat with Matt Martin already in the penalty box. Gagner put Vancouver up 2-0, from the Sedin twins.

Less than two minutes later, at 8:23 of the third, Matthews came through just as commandingly as Boeser, getting behind the Vancouver defence and streaking hard to the net, accepting a tremendous feed at the edge of the crease from Hyman. That was No. 19 for Matthews, trailing Boeser by a three-spot.

And that woke up a crowd that had fallen into the ho-hum doldrums, further smacking itself upside the head when Bozak, with his eighth, knotted the game 2-2 at 12:37 on his own bang-bang rebound.

A game that picked itself up off the mat for excitement quotient couldn’t be settled in regulation, couldn’t be settled in OT, couldn’t be settled with 36 shots a piece.

Back-to-back shootouts for the Leafs.

For the second consecutive game, Bozak won it.

Leafs shuffle defence pairings ahead of first game back from five-day break .
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