James van Riemsdyk was robbed of a star Sunday night in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2-1 Game 6 victory over the Boston Bruins at Air Canada Centre.
The 24-year-old who would be considered young on any other team helped set up both Leafs’ goals and consequently played a role in captain Dion Phaneuf being on the sunny side of an ACC game-breaker.
There is truth to the idea that the second assist can often be a tacked-on stats-padder, but such was not the case in the Leafs’ first goal Sunday night.
As Phaneuf himself starts a rush he would soon finish, watch JVR’s spinning backhanded pass to Nazem Kadri on the right wing. Half-blind but perfect.
But did van Riemsdyk know Kadri would be there?
“I saw him coming up the wing, so I just wanted to throw it over towards him,” JVR said.
The two forwards then cut in each other’s direction, giving the illusion that a give-and-go might be executed.
“We did a little exchange. He sold it really well,” JVR explained. “I don’t think their guys knew he was going to hold it like that. And Dion’s there, driving to the net. That’s what we’ve talked about is getting in front of the net.”
With the possession in the high slot, Kadri then fires a wrister that finds its way to the aggressive defenceman.
“When he had the puck up top, I wanted to stop and give him the screen because he made a great play to cut back,” Phaneuf said. “Obviously he’s a skilled player and I got a stick on it, but he made a great play to get the puck through.”
Though the goal – not the game-winner (the Bruins scored late with their goalie yanked) but, for my money, the goal that won the Leafs the game – was a fantastic display of team execution, it meant the most to the captain, who had not scored in this playoff series nor his last one, with the Calgary Flames in 2009.
“He’s the leader of our team, and he’s the guy that takes the most heat when things aren’t going so well. So it was nice for Neuf to finally put one in the back of the net -- and he started that whole play off,” Kadri said. “He plays a lot of grueling minutes for us against their best players, and I think that’s underplayed too. Hopefully everyone’s off his back a little bit because he’s an important piece to this puzzle.”
Phaneuf, you’ll recall, received eye rolls for pinching on the play that led to Boston’s game-winning overtime goal in Game 4 of the series.
“He caught a bad break that one game, but he makes a lot of great plays for us, plays a ton of minutes, and he made a great play in front of the net to make something happen and get the ball rolling for us,” van Riemsdyk said.
The ball has now rolled all the way back to Boston for Game 7.