Maple Leafs show some fight, still lose to Wild
Joffrey Lupul was quiet and to the point.
“It always feels nice to contribute,” Lupul said late on Monday night in a mostly empty Maple Leafs dressing room.
“We have to take positives where we can get them. We competed pretty hard with a really good desperate team, but again, the point is to win.”
The Leafs didn’t do that against the Minnesota Wild, losing 2-1 on a night that drew a mere 18,366 souls to the Air Canada Centre (the lowest attendance, it’s believed, for a Leafs game in the building), many of whom were gone by the time the local heroes managed to get something going in the third period.
Lupul, with just nine goals and 10 assists to his name in 46 previous games this season, had not recorded a point in 17 games. That changed when his shot got through Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk with 61/2 minutes remaining in regulation, as Jake Gardiner arrived to knock the puck into the open net a second before Sam Carrick would have.
One couldn’t blame Lupul for wondering what might have been in 2014-15. Three times he has found himself on the sideline with an injury, with no absence shorter than four games. Settling into a rhythm where he could attain anything approaching consistency is something he has not been able to grasp.
“I think it has definitely affected him in a big way,” Leafs interim head coach Peter Horachek said. “He has not really got up to speed, the strength, where he usually has the breakaway speed. He is trying and he is pushing through.”
Just three Leafs have played in all 74 games this season, and it happens to be the three on whom the biggest hopes were pinned. James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel had their chances against the Wild, combining to record 12 of the Leafs’ 36 shots on Devan Dubnyk.
That was not of much concern to van Riemsdyk, who could not help but peer at the bigger picture.
“A lot of it for us this year has come down to between the ears,” van Riemsdyk said. “You give yourself no chance when you don’t play smart. It does not matter how hard you work, how hard you do things. If you are not smart with the puck and smart within the structure, you are not going to win a lot of nights.
“I think we did a lot of good things, there were a couple of miscues, but for a good chunk of the game we played it the right way.”
There was this summation of Dubnyk from van Riemsdyk: “He is on a hell of a run, this guy.”
Dubnyk saw just 18 shots through 40 minutes, stopping them all, then saw the same amount in half the time in the final 20 minutes. He has provided the kind of goaltending for the Wild since he was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes in January that the Leafs would have liked from Jonathan Bernier.
It was not a terrible night by any means for Bernier, who finished with 30 saves. The winning goal by Thomas Vanek at 9:08 of the third was not great, as the shot had enough to squeeze past the goalie. A defensive breakdown in the first period helped Charlie Coyle beat Bernier along the ice as the pair of Tim Erixon and Andrew MacWilliam got into trouble.
Bernier noted the Leafs had more structure in front of him, especially in the neutral zone, and the result was less speed for the visitors as they entered the offensive zone.
Overall, Horachek saw the kind of enthusiasm he not only has been pining for but also has been imploring his players publicly to find.
“I thought there was a push-back, there was an effort, we had opportunities around the net,” Horachek said. “We had second chances. You are hoping that one of those go in.
“We push for consistency in the whole game.”
Lupul didn’t need to be asked twice about the Wild, which appears to be on its way to securing a playoff berth in the Western Conference.
“It was a good hockey game,” Lupul said. “They are a really good team. They’re going to be successful.”