Even Tyler Bozak can’t explain how an undrafted, inexperienced Maple Leafs forward can get so comfortable playing on a line with two of the NHL’s top scorers – under Toronto’s hockey microscope, no less.
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Nobody on the Anaheim Ducks looks even slightly comfortable these days, and they’ve got no explanations for their collapse.
Bozak scored two goals, Joffrey Lupul had two assists against his former Anaheim teammates, and the Maple Leafs beat the Ducks 5-2 Sunday night for their fourth victory in five games.
Bozak’s third two-goal game of his career was his second in three games. Such are the rewards of skating on the Leafs’ top line with NHL scoring leader Phil Kessel, who had an assist for his 31st point, and Lupul, who’s tied for second in the league with 29 points in his own breakout offensive season.
”I’m comfortable. I think I can play with those guys,” said Bozak, who has stayed on the top line even with Tim Connolly’s return from injury. ”We’ve had a ton of injuries, but guys have stepped up and responded really well.”
Bozak and Clarke MacArthur scored 19 seconds apart in the first period for Toronto, which reclaimed first place in the Northeast Division and sent the spiraling Ducks to their seventh consecutive loss with a sturdy, workmanlike performance to finish a mileage-heavy four-game road trip.
”After playing with those guys, especially (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry, I know if they get confidence at the start of the game, they’re going to be tough to contain,” Lupul said. ”It was important that we responded right away after they got the first goal.”
Lupul was impressive in his return to Anaheim, which surprisingly dealt him to Toronto nine months ago shortly after he returned from a full year’s absence due to back injuries. Rookie defenseman Jake Gardiner also played more than 25 minutes for the Leafs, who acquired him in the same trade with Anaheim for Beauchemin.
”I still don’t think of myself in that category with the top scorers in the league,” said Lupul, who kept his home in the Los Angeles area.
Joey Crabb also scored, Luke Schenn added an empty-netter from in front of his own goal with 12 seconds left, and Jonas Gustavsson made 26 saves in his fourth straight victory for the Maple Leafs during starter James Reimer’s injury absence.
Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin scored for the Ducks, who have won just twice in 18 games since Oct. 17. Jonas Hiller made 23 saves for the Ducks, who have only 16 points – the NHL’s second-lowest total – despite the presence of a reigning league MVP, an All-Star goalie and a wealth of elite talent.
”I think we just seem to be dead between the ears,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. ”It’s mind-boggling, some of the plays that we’re trying to make. We’re not thinking, we’re not reading, and then it seems that we pile on extra work for ourselves from our lack of execution.”
With former Ducks general manager Brian Burke watching from the visiting executives’ suite and original Ducks coach Ron Wilson behind the Maple Leafs’ bench, Toronto wrapped up its trip with another strong offensive effort in their only Southern California appearance of the season. The Leafs have scored 25 goals in their last five games, getting an early jump in the race for their first playoff spot since 2004.
The Leafs are 14 points ahead of the Ducks, who are running out of time to get it together.
”There’s been a lot of talking, a lot of meetings, but really no answers,” said Teemu Selanne, who leads Anaheim with 22 points. ”It seems to me that nothing works. It’s just unbelievable. I don’t know what to say. Night after night, we make the same mistakes. We’re trying to stay positive. I think everybody hates this situation. There’s been enough talking. There’s no mental toughness right now.”
After Beauchemin’s opening goal, Toronto evened it when Bozak scored a power-play goal in front on a slick back-pass from John-Michael Liles. Just 19 seconds later, MacArthur capitalized on Toni Lydman’s turnover and fired a shot that deflected off Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa’s stick and found a sliver of net over Hiller’s shoulder.
MacArthur has scored a goal in three straight games after a three-game injury absence. Crabb also scored in his third straight game, connecting in the second period.
Perry, a 50-goal scorer last season while winning the Hart Trophy, scored his 10th goal in 23 games early in the third.
Notes: Bozak left tickets for Blue Jays LHP Ricky Romero, an East Los Angeles native. … Getzlaf’s goal drought reached a career-worst 14 games. … Kessel had scored against every NHL team except Anaheim. … Wilson says Gardiner, the Ducks’ top draft pick in 2008, is the most impressive young defenseman he can remember coaching. … Before the game, Anaheim recalled G Jeff Deslauriers from its AHL affiliate in Syracuse. Dan Ellis, Hiller’s backup, was scratched with a groin strain.