Wednesday night in Washington, Jonas Gustavsson played the best a goalie can possibly play in a loss. Even though it ended 5-4 in the shootout in favour of the Capitals, the "Monster" had a monster game between the pipes for the Leafs.
The pressure was relentless throughout the night, and the Capitals entered the third period with a 3-1 lead before the Leafs battled back, and eventually went ahead 4-3. Alex Semin tied it up late, and the stage was set for extra time.
But the comebacks weren't the story on this night.
Gustavsson, playing in just his fourth game of the season, stole the show in Washington. The Caps fired 30 shots at him, and he stopped 26 of them-including a couple of the mammoth variety.
His second period diving stick save (one that few saw at first) has got to be a candidate for early save of the year, and there were other chances for Ovechkin and Co. to put the game away, but the Monster kept his team alive.
Gustavsson's great play has gone somewhat unnoticed this season, as everyone seems focused on a number of issues surrounding the team at the moment. But he's been good, really good, against Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, Boston, and Washington. Three of the four poised for long playoff runs this season.
It's not that J.S. Giguere has been completely hogging the playing time (appearing in eight games), but it seems like Wilson is waiting for one of the two net minders to get hot and run with it. Wednesday night may have been the moment Gustavsson and his coach were waiting for.
And a start against lowly Buffalo on Saturday night might be in order for the sophomore Swedish goalie.
He's just 1-2-1 thus far, but given a chance to play more than once a week, and the Monster might show he's capable of carrying the load for this Leafs squad already.
Goaltending has not been the issue this season, scoring has, but when you have a hot goalie in the crease, that scoring problem suddenly seems a whole lot less problematic.
It's not a guarantee, obviously, that letting Gustavsson run with the workload for a while will mean sudden success for the Leafs, but after the fantastic effort against the powerful Capitals, allowing him to play a few in a row certainly wouldn't hurt.
The goalie of the future deserves some playing time in the now. They've tried almost every line combination possible in the past two weeks, without a change in results. The one change they haven't made yet, well, maybe that's the one that steals the Leafs a few games and buys them some time while (if) they figure out a solution up front.
And for a team that's lost seven of their last eight games, what's the worst that can happen; they lose?
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