TORONTO – It was a taste of karma for the Leafs.
A night that began with James Reimer's scary exit in the Toronto crease would end in that very spot with a puzzled Jonathan Bernier ceding the awkward game-winner. Considering mounting flaws and stretches of incomplete hockey amid a (seemingly) scorching 6-1-0 start, the Leafs may have gotten what they deserved on a strange Thursday night at the ACC.
"I think the hockey gods got back at us tonight," grinned Randy Carlyle following a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Hurricanes, the head coach predicting such a fate only days earlier.
Pressing hard for improvements after a misleading 4-1 victory against Minnesota on Tuesday – they were outshot 37-14 – all appeared well for Carlyle's club in the opening stages of the middle frame on this night.
Josh Leivo's first career goal would stake the Leafs to a sturdy 2-0 lead – Joffrey Lupul notching his sixth of the season moments earlier – one that would deteriorate in a matter of seven minutes on a pair of odd bounces in the third.
The first would see a Ryan Murphy point shot carom off the stick of Dave Bolland and through Bernier, the 20-year-old's first career marker cutting the deficit to one. Less than four minutes later, Carl Gunnarsson would block the shot of Justin Faulk, the puck careening to an always lethal Eric Staal in the high slot.
Just like that, the 2-0 third period lead had vanished.
"Two-goal lead going into the third feels good and then maybe we sat back a bit too much and they got the momentum," Gunnarsson told the Leaf Report afterward. "They were going and we were a bit on our heels trying to defend that lead. Tough to turn that around."
Fate would deliver its final sucker punch off the tape of Ron Hainsey.
Lingering 174 feet from the Toronto goal, the Hurricanes defender would launch the puck off the wall at centre-ice. A foot race between 19-year-old Morgan Rielly and 36-year-old Radek Dvorak would ensue, only by the time linesman Don Henderson had waved off this instance of hybrid icing, the puck had caromed weirdly off the end-boards and through the legs of a stunned Bernier.
"It was just a bad mistake on my part," said the 25-year-old, who believed the play would be whistled for icing.
Ultimately, it was a bounce gone wrong after so many gone right early this season.
Despite increasingly wobbly play through the first seven games, the Leafs had picked up all but two of a possible 14 points, held up by terrific special teams, a potent offence and sturdy goaltending.
Sensing the frailty of his team's hot start, Carlyle predicted an impending reversal of fortune and on this night he and his team got it.
"It's almost karma for the way we've been playing," Cody Franson observed afterward.
"[Expletive] like that happens sometimes," Gunnarsson said of Hainsey's unlikely game-winner. "I'm not going to blame [the loss] on bad bounces or anything; we probably could've done something better in situations before the goals, so we've got to look at that.
"But karma? Absolutely."
1. Reimer Injury
Only 32 seconds had elapsed on the clock before Reimer would crumble to the ice. Bobbling the first shot of the game from Jordan Staal, the 25-year-old would attempt to smother the puck, only to be run awkwardly in the neck area by the right leg of his teammate Leivo. Assisted by the team trainer, he would leave the game in favour of Bernier moments later.
"I kind of tried jumping over and landed on my chin," Leivo said regretfully afterward. "It's a bad play, wish it never happened."
The collision was eerily similar to one Reimer endured nearly two years earlier at the Bell Centre. In that instance on Oct. 22, 2011, he was stung in the head area by Montreal captain Brian Gionta. Reimer would battle "concussion-like symptoms" throughout the course of that season, the injury later deemed to be neck-related.
"You're always concerned when any player gets pulled out of a hockey game due to injury," Carlyle said. "This one, there is a history there so you have to worry about it for sure."
According to Carlyle, Reimer suffered just a headache from the incident and was expected to participate in practice on Friday. The Leafs had scrounged up Brett Willows from the University of Toronto to act as a contingency in the event that Bernier also went down with injury.
"Fortunately warm-up wasn't too long ago so Bernie was still somewhat warm," Cody Franson smirked later.
2. Hainsey's odd winner
Thinking the play would be whistled as a result of the new hybrid icing, the Leafs were surprised when Henderson waved off the play at the very last instance, in fact at the very same moment the puck landed behind Bernier.
"That's the new rules and that's where it's difficult from our standpoint because they're making a decision at the dot," Carlyle said.
Though he conceded that Dvorak was a "foot ahead" of Rielly, Carlyle felt his defender was in line to play the puck when it rung around the boards. Instead, the puck banked off those very same boards and trickled behind Bernier, who had "misjudged" it.
"Short-side goals are bad goals in the NHL," laughed Carlyle afterward. "As crazy as it sounds it went short-side. What are you going to do?"
"It wasn't my favourite one, that's for sure," said Bernier of the goal. "It wasn't pretty."
3. Bozak's struggles on the draw
Tyler Bozak took 1063 face-offs last season, more than every NHL centre but Claude Giroux. Despite actually leading that category in the opening weeks this season – 204 to date – he has struggled to win more than his fair or perhaps, expected share.
The 27-year-old finished 13-27 against the Hurricanes (48 per cent), his overall mark now at 48.5 per cent for the season (tied for 62nd-overall.) A year ago, he wrapped as the 25th-most successful face-off artist with a 52.5 per cent success rate. Interestingly, Bozak has actually been more effective on the road than at home - 45.3 per cent at the ACC vs. 54 per cent everywhere else.
Because he is used more often by his team in the face-off circle (39.1 per cent) than every centre save the aforementioned Giroux and Sidney Crosby, the Leafs have, as a team, struggled, sitting 25th-overall after Thursday night (45.5 per cent.)
4. JVR Remains Out
James van Riemsdyk missed his second-consecutive game with what Carlyle revealed to be back spasms. Following an off-day for the team this past Sunday, the 23-year-old reported to work on Monday morning suffering from the ailment. He missed practice that day and could skate only sparingly over the course of the next two days, remaining "stiff" with little improvement after 35-40 minutes of practice on Wednesday.
"We're not going to put him on the ice in a situation where we think we're going to possibly have him have any setback," Carlyle said.
According to Carlyle, van Riemsdyk has no history of back issues and is considered day-to-day. He joins a list of injured Leafs that includes Frazer McLaren, Mark Fraser and Nik Kulemin. The Leafs have totaled 22 man-games lost due to injury thus far.
Stepping into his place onto a top unit that includes Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak, Mason Raymond would clock a career-high of nearly 25 minutes against the Hurricanes.
5. First goal
The night proved bittersweet for Josh Leivo. There was the unintentional collision with Reimer on the opening shift and a sour defeat for his team by the time the night was through. But the third-round selection from the 2011 Draft did manage his first NHL goal in what was his fourth NHL game.
With just six games of AHL experience to his name, the 20-year-old Leivo would burst in with linemate Jay McClement, picking the short-side high corner to beat Cam Ward.
"I'm just getting a little bit more confidence every game and obviously Randy's showing it by playing me a little bit more," Leivo told the Leaf Report before the game, totaling nearly 12 minutes on Thursday.
38 – Total shots for the Hurricanes.
8 – Number of times the Leafs have allowed 30-plus shots in eight games this season.
24:49 – Ice-time for Mason Raymond on Thursday, a career-high.
39.1 – Percentage of face-offs Tyler Bozak has taken for the Leafs this season. Bozak trails only Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux in that category.
20:09 – Ice-time for Nazem Kadri on Thursday, a season-high.
2 – Games in which the Leafs have not managed a power-play goal, both losses.
17 – Goals for Joffrey Lupul in 21 regular season games dating back to last season.
204 – Total face-offs for Bozak this season, first among all NHL centres.
Special Teams Capsule
Quote of the Night
"[Expletive] like that happens sometimes."
-Carl Gunnarsson on Ron Hainsey's strange game-winner.
The Leafs visit the defending Stanley Cup-champion Blackhawks in Chicago on Saturday.