Jonathan Bernier stood on his head once again for the Maple Leafs, allowing his team to escape New York with a point they didn’t deserve. If it wasn’t for Bernier, the Maple Leafs would have been blown out of Madison Square Garden after he turned away 42 out of the Rangers’ 43 shot attempts, including an outstanding performance in the second period where the Maple Leafs were outshot 22-5.
The Maple Leafs needed to defeat the Rangers, considering they are right on their heels in the playoff race and the Rangers have been struggling at home. The Maple Leafs needed to take advantage of their poor home record, as they’ve only won once on the road since Halloween and the Rangers entered the contest with a 7-10-2 record at the Garden.
The Rangers are now three points behind the Maple Leafs for the final wild card playoff spot, with 38 points compared to Toronto’s 41 points. Earning a point against the Rangers was huge for the Maple Leafs, given that the Rangers could easily be just a game behind the Maples Leafs in the standings on Christmas morning.
However, considering that the Rangers played the night before and the Maple Leafs were in New York watching that game while waiting to play the following night, the Maple Leafs missed a great opportunity to create separation in the standings. A week ago, the Florida Panthers were sitting in Toronto, waiting to play the Maple Leafs the next night as they watched Toronto battle the Pittsburgh Penguins. When the puck dropped between Florida and Toronto, the Panthers jumped on a tired Maple Leaf team and took advantage of a fatigued squad playing the second half of back-to-back games.
The Maple Leafs needed to jump on the Rangers with the same type of energy and physicality the Panthers had against them. Had they come out stronger and took advantage of a Rangers team playing their second game in as many nights, the Maple Leafs could have a six point separation between themselves and the Rangers.
The two teams will meet again on Jan. 4, and considering how poorly the Maple Leafs have played lately, it could be a game that decides ownership of the final Eastern Conference wild card spot.