After completing a three-game sweep of the Edmonton Oilers, the Toronto Maple Leafs played their third game in four nights in Vancouver and ran into a hot goaltender, as Thatcher Demko stymied the Leafs with a 31-save performance in a 3-1 Canucks victory at Rogers Arena on Thursday.
Pierre Engvall scored Toronto’s only goal late in the first period after Jake Virtanen opened the scoring on a goal put past goalie Michael Hutchinson by teammate Justin Holl. The big Canucks winger scored the game-winner in a more traditional manner, picking the corner on a sharp angle over the Leafs goaltender’s left shoulder.
“I flattened out a bit expecting the play for him to be to throw it in front or try and bank it off me low for a pad pass with their guys driving the net. As I was going down into the post, I saw his wrists open up and knew he was coming high.” Hutchinson said after the game. From there I just slipped off the post a little bit. It was just a little bit of a mess for me. It’s definitely one I’d like to have back. It was an unfortunate goal at an unfortunate time of the game.”
The loss ended the Leafs four-game winning streak, who will complete the five-game road trip with another game against the Canucks on Saturday. Frederik Andersen served as the backup in the contest, while Jack Campbell participated in on-ice drills on Thursday morning, which may mean that the Leafs will have their top two goaltenders healthy and available to them for the first time since late January.
With 32 games to go in the regular season, it appears a near certainty that the Maple Leafs will be in one of the top four spots in the North Division when playoff time comes around, but what is uncertain at this point is where the Leafs or other Canadian teams will play home games if they get through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
According to Pierre LeBrun of the Athletic, if the current border restrictions remain the same in June, it is possible that the Leafs could call the Key Bank Center in Buffalo their home for the Stanley Cup Semi-Final or the four division winners playing in locations that allow fans. Currently, the Sabres building allows 10% capacity and that may increase in size in the summer.
It is going on one year since the US /Canadian border has been closed everyone but essential workers, and that fact may be a factor for NHL clubs not only for the playoffs, but for the upcoming April 12 trade deadline. Teams have to consider that players will be unavailable due to the 14-day quarantine, unless the Canadian government loosens restrictions over the next month.
The Toronto Raptors are playing the entire NBA season in Tampa, and the Toronto Blue Jays are starting their season in Dunedin, FL until American teams are allowed to cross the border and play them at the Rogers Centre.
One can only hope that the increase of the COVID-19 vaccine being distributed throughout the US and Canada over the next month will allow the quarantine period to be reduced for players traded from US clubs and for the border to be opened up this spring.
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