The Toronto Maple Leafs continued their hot play as of late with a 4-3 shootout victory in Tampa Bay last night. This time around, the Maple Leafs erased a 3-0 deficit with goals by John Mitchell, Jason Blake, and newcomer Jeffrey Hamilton.
The shootout carried right through to the sixth round as goaltenders Karri Ramo of the Lightning and Curtis Joseph of the Maple Leafs continuously shut the door while receiving some help from the goal posts.
Vincent Lecavalier had the loan shootout goal for the Lightning as Jeffrey Hamilton and John Mitchell answered for the Maple Leafs.
Blake continued his impressive play last night as he was by far one of the most dangerous Leaf players on the ice even through a listless first period.
Mikhail Grabovski was another player who played an excellent two way game last night as he was consistently back-checking the Lighting forwards and taking away respectable scoring chances.
It is truly a surprise as to how the Maple Leafs continue to pull out wins in the latter half of the season. Having traded top forwards such as Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore, as well as losing Tomas Kaberle, Niklas Hagman, Mike Van Ryn, and Jonas Frogren to injuries, many fans expected the Maple Leafs to currently be in a death spiral within the standings.
Tank nation, however, continues to be frustrated as many players have stepped up to show their worth and make cases for possible positions on the team for next season.
In an era where the salary cap is likely to drop within the next two seasons, developing team draft picks will become more of a necessity then ever before.
John Mitchell has definitely shown his worthiness on both ends of the rink and can likely be penciled in as the Leafs third line center for next season.
Rookies Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin have not missed a beat without linemate Niklas Hagman, as they continue to produce offensively while starting to show defensive awareness in all three zones.
A surprising face on the blue-line at this point is rookie Phil Oreskovic. The 6"3 Toronto native continued his solid defensive play last night as he makes a case for a bottom pairing role next season.
Oreskovic does seem like a typical Burke type plumber player; young, cheap, and skilled. Do not be surprised if a defense-man like Mike Van Ryn or Jonas Frogren become expendable in the off-season.
Many of the Maple Leaf's young talent are currently playing their hearts out in hopes of securing a regular spot on the roster for next season. This is why we are seeing the Maple Leafs playing consistent solid hockey as they surprise teams with their hard fore-checking offense and a defensive system which finally looks to be coming to form under Ron Wilson.
If fans expected Brian Burke to mail it in as well, then they should think again. The Maple Leaf's president and general manager was in attendance last night in Tampa Bay and his fist pump expressions after Mitchell's shootout winner could not show illustrate a more happier individual for a Maple Leafs' win.
Burke wants the team to finish on a high note; they need something to built off of going into the next season. What tank nation needs to understand is that Burke is not currently concerned with his draft position.
Burke has likely already identified key players in which he will target in the top 15 positions in the draft. He will likely make moves at the draft table to either move up or down to the player he most desires for the team.
One thing has become clear this season. The once labelled lackluster prospect pool of the Maple Leafs is suddenly starting to turn some heads in the NHL.