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So close and yet so far: Leafs drop 10th straight, falling 4-3 to the Preds
By Will Cornett

So close and yet so far: Leafs drop 10th straight, falling 4-3 to the Preds
The Toronto Maple Leafs were in the Music City on Tuesday, as the Nashville Predators hosted them for some exciting, hardnosed hockey. In a game that saw the lead pinball between the two teams, there was plenty of action. Unfortunately for Leafs’ fans, the result was the same. as Toronto dropped their tenth straight, falling 4-3 to surprising Preds.

Toronto - February 4, 2015 - The Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club is hurting. It is as simple as that. Winless in nine, including being shutout four times is as lackluster as anyone would expect at this point in the season. It appears that the microscope that the Toronto media puts the Leafs under has finally crumbled on top of the team.

There is a cloud of doubt, disappointment, and displeasure following the Leafs as they travel from rink to rink, and it is having an incredible influence on their play and their morale. The Leafs are obviously lacking confidence, which is affecting the fans' confidence as well. Frustration is an understatement at this point, and with the trade deadline vastly approaching it is obvious that there will be an attempt to shake up the makeup of the team.

The Leafs took to the ice Tuesday night against a stingy Nashville Predators team that has given Toronto problems this season.

What was a pleasant surprise in this outing for the Leafs was their defensive play, along with the lack of shots they allowed early in the game. However, the minimum number of shots from Nashville did not deter them from scoring.

Early in the first, Jonathan Bernier was beat by the youthful sensation, Seth Jones, who glided down ice all alone to put the puck past the Leafs’ goaltender after a terrible giveaway from Nazem Kadri. What made matters worse was the fact that the Leafs were on a powerplay at the time of the goal.

The second goal to beat Bernier came off the stick of the league's hardest shot defending champ, Shea Weber. The rocket goal flew by Bernier, who most likely did not even see the puck come off Weber’s stick. The first period would end shortly after, and the Leafs would go into the intermission down two goals; a feat that has become an unhealthy habit for the Leafs this season.

The second period showcased better play from the Leafs as they focused on protecting the puck and limiting the amount of turnovers in the neutral zone. The conservative play would result in more powerplays for the Leafs, and ultimately would lead to Daniel Winnik scoring the Leafs' first goal of the match. Mike Santorelli’s aggressive play along Nashville’s end boards would lead to two Nashville defenders getting caught out of position, allowing Winnik to creep into the slot and slap home a laser, courteous of a Santorelli pass.

In the final minutes of the second, Bernier would be tested by a Matt Cullen breakaway, and the resulting save would cause Bernier to be cut by his own skate blade. The play also resulted in a penalty for the Leafs, causing James Reimer to enter the game in a very difficult situation. Reimer would stand tall in relief, stopping every one of the shots he faced from Nashville's powerplay offence. The period would end 2-1 in favour of the Predators.

The Leafs would quickly erase the one goal deficit as the third period began. Under three minutes into the period, Kadri would put the puck behind Carter Hutton, who initially stopped a David Booth breakaway, but failed to manage a save on the rebound. Thirty-seven seconds later, Santorelli would snap the puck past Hutton, who was caught out of position, and would provide Leafs with some much needed positive energy. The two back to back goals from Kadri and Santorelli would give the Leafs a one goal lead, and would force Peter Laviolette to take a much needed timeout.

Bernier would return to the crease with just over five minutes played in the third. Hindsight being 20/20, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Reimer was permitted to finish the period.

The Leafs’ lead would be short lived, as Mike Fisher would score the tying goal under the ten-minute mark of the period. Unfortunately this would not be the end of Nashville's attack, as Colin Wilson would also net a goal, putting the Predators back on top with a 4-3 lead.

Winnik on a terrific individual effort almost beat Hutton, but fired the puck off the post. On the ensuing rebound, Santorelli put the puck past Hutton, but an acrobatic maneuver allowed Hutton to harmlessly deflect the puck away from the goal line.

With less than two minutes remaining, the Leafs pulled Bernier, gaining the extra attacker and desperately tried to score an equalizer. The extra man failed to lift the Leafs to a comeback and the game would end with Nashville winning 4-3, in a hard fought battle by both clubs.

As much as it pains to watch the Blue and White lose another tight, hard fought battle against a good team, there is some solace to be had as not everything went wrong during the game. There were a number of bright spots that occurred throughout the match, with Mike Santorelli’s play gaining the spotlight. James Reimer proved again why he deserves to play, as he was placed in an unfortunate and otherwise dismal situation, and prospered.

Ultimately, tonight’s outing was not merely another game to add to the “L” column, but instead a glimpse as to what the Leafs are capable of when they play with positive energy and confidence.

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