Matthews snipes winner as Maple Leafs down Blackhawks in OT
With the Blackhawks up 2-0 at the first-period horn, Duncan Keith gave baby-faced Mitch Marner a rude shove into the boards, what a senior might do to a Grade 9 student in a crowded high school hallway.
The message was not subtle: ‘This is high school and you’re a long way from graduating.’
That might be so for the young Maple Leafs, but Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and the like are quick learners. Instead of getting stuffed in a locker, they broke out for revenge of the nerds, an improbable 4-3 overtime win on Monday, two late third-period goals and a Matthews game-winner with 1:17 to go in 3-on-3 overtime.
“As the game went on we got better and better,” said Matthews, whose goal was the 19th for the Leafs in three games and made them 3-0 to start a season for the first time since 2013. “We were up against a team that has won (Cups) before, a pretty powerful team the past eight years. When we get into these tight games, it’s a matter of inches.
“This is definitely a big win for us as far as confidence goes and we just want to keep that momentum going.”
The Leafs pumped 43 shots at Anton Forsberg, who was getting a rare start so Corey Crawford could play Wednesday in his home town of Montreal. But for much of the night, Forsberg was formidable and you could see the frustration in Matthews and linemate William Nylander who missed some great chances despite good puck possession numbers.
Toronto kept its forechecking and its structure intact and thanks to a goal by Connor Brown with seven minutes to go and a Tyler Bozak power play shot that glanced in off of James van Riemsdyk’s skate, the Leafs forced an exciting overtime at the ACC.
“We kept them to limited scoring chances (21 shots),” said Brown. “They were playing rush hockey and we got sucked into it. They were giving us semi-odd-man rushes and we were turning a lot of pucks over. We came back in here, took a breath and got to playing in their end.
“We know what we need to do to win and that’s why it was important to come back (the Leafs were 3-22-2 trailing after 40 minutes last season). You don’t want to look past a team like that, but you know who is coming in the building. It was a big task for us.”
Toronto goes for a fourth win Wednesday at home against the Devils.
“They were better than us early, but we really got engaged,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “We were able to come at them pretty good. There were a ton of penalties tonight (14 power plays, almost equally divided), but we didn’t panic even when they got the (3-1) goal, the banker off the backboard.”
Ex-Leaf Richard Panik beat Brown to the puck and the latter was quite peeved. Marner, Nylander, Matthews and a few other noted shooters came up dry during the initial stages. From 15 goals the previous two games, the first time that’s happened to open a season in 100 years of franchise history, the Leafs had four, their first one off the stick of Nikita Zaitsev.
The Leafs tried to set the tone in terms of pace, but unlike against Winnipeg and New York there was no meltdown on defence or in net in the first period. There was nothing wrong with Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen in the first frame except bad luck, a wraparound by defenceman Jan Rutta that glanced off of Marner’s stick and in. Jake Gardiner, author of a beautiful goal Saturday on a solo rush, then got mixed up in his zone, with a puck hitting Andersen’s discarded stick behind the net and ending up in an easy Jonathan Toews’ rebound.
Before the game Babcock tried to reconcile the pack-attack mentality of his forwards with the troubles they’ve had on their side of centre.
“It’s not even team defence (at fault), it’s what you do with the puck that puts you in bad spots,” the coach said. “We have to take care of the puck way better, play the whole 60 minutes against a good team. “Any set plays, faceoffs, that sort of thing, you have to know what your job is. We can be way better without (the puck), we’ve given up 37 and 35 shots and that’s way too much. If that was 27 and 25, we’d be feeling way better. (In the opener in Winnipeg) we had eight penalty kills that (skews the shot numbers) and things get away on you a little bit. I don’t know if they counted (shots against) by two in here the other night, we’ll check that over time here, but it’s important to keep your shots against and your chances against down.”
With Connor Carrick nursing what’s being referred to as an upper-body injury, Babcock dressed both his rookie Swedes, Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman. It conjured images of Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom, who debuted 44 years ago Wednesday, but three Swedish rookies were in the Leafs lineup two years ago; Nylander, Viktor Loov and Tobias Lindberg, preceded by Carl Gunnarson and Viktor Stalberg in 2009-10 and Staffan Kronwall and Alex Steen in ‘05-06.
Brown set up a pinching Zaitsev for his second of the season. The Rosen and Brown assists left Eric Fehr as the only Leafs skater without a point through three games. Fehr, the fourth line centre who has flipped with Dominic Moore so far, had a couple of chances to get on the board.