James Reimer stole the show and the win Saturday night but he could not have done it if a couple of his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates had not done a masterful job of checking Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby.
Crosby came into the Air Canada Centre riding a nine-game point streak against the Maple Leafs. The NHL's leading points man (18 points in 11 games) had 11 goals and four assists in nine games against the Leafs going back to Oct. 10, 2009. The Penguins also held a hot hand against the Leafs at the ACC, having won their last two visits and held a 5-2-1 record, also going back to 2009.
But Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle had one new and one familiar weapon to throw against Crosby and they managed to hold him without a point to break his streak. The new weapon was centre Dave Bolland, who came to his hometown Maple Leafs in a trade last June, and the familiar one was defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who has waged war with Crosby for years.
By the end of the 4-1 Toronto win, the Leafs may have been outshot 38-30, which is where Reimer's heroics in goal come in, but Crosby finished minus-1 and Bolland produced two goals, including a shorthanded one with help from Phaneuf. It was Phaneuf who spotted Bolland up ice late in the first period during a Penguins power play. He fired the puck up the middle to him for the Leafs' first goal, a breakaway slapshot to the top corner. Bolland added an empty-netter in the third period to ice the win.
This left the Penguins with their third consecutive loss after a 7-0 start to the season. They are also reeling from injuries and lost another key player in the first period. Defenceman Rob Scuderi took a shoulder-on-shoulder hit from Leafs winger David Clarkson and then fell awkwardly to the ice.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said he did not have "any definitive news on a lower-body injury" to Scuderi. The defenceman will be "re-evaluated when he gets back to Pittsburgh," Bylsma added.
Every time Crosby and linemates Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz hit the ice, Carlyle sent Bolland over the boards along with wingers Mason Raymond and Clarkson and, of course, Phaneuf. When Crosby wasn't being shadowed by Bolland, he was engaged in a lively exchange of hacks and whacks with Phaneuf.
This was nothing new for Crosby and Phaneuf. They have gone at it for years, going back to their days together with the Canadian world junior team. Many a national team practice was livened up by their skirmishes in front of the net.
"That's a battle that's not going to go away," Crosby said.
It wasn't long before Crosby knew this visit to Toronto, which turned into a second loss in as many nights, was not going to be a lot of fun. Midway through the first period, he took a hit from Clarkson and then got a little too much stick into Raymond, which resulted in a tripping penalty.
Crosby and company turned up the heat in the second period but the Leafs managed to weather the storm. The Penguins outshot the Leafs 16-4, with Crosby's line striking for half of those shots after being held to two shots from Kunitz in the first period.
While Reimer can take most of the credit for keeping the Leafs in the game during that period, Bolland and Phaneuf can take a bow as well. They managed to hold Crosby in check, setting the Leafs up for their third-period heroics when goals from Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel pulled out the unlikely win after the Penguins faded in the last 20 minutes.
Crosby thought his line generated enough good scoring chances that the Penguins should not have gone into the third period with the score tied 1-1. He professed not to have much familiarity with Bolland, who plied his trade with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference until this season.
"I haven't played Chicago in a long time," he said. "He did a good job for [the Leafs]. He got a big goal shorthanded. Those matchups are within every game; you're always playing someone."