The story at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday night included two goaltenders, a third period lead and two big points for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they were able to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2.
Frederik Andersen came up with some big saves for his club down the stretch – especially as they kept the puck out in the final minute of the third period. But it was a full team effort for the Leafs at home. Tyler Bozak was a major factor scoring a goal alongside goals from William Nylander and Mitch Marner.
For both clubs it was a must-win to keep their playoff hopes realistically alive. For the Leafs, they were successful in doing that, but for the Flyers the two points dropped them further from playoff contention.
It was a story of special teams in the first period – at least the power play of both clubs. But not before the Flyers came out playing with desperation. Throughout the first half of the frame, the Flyers controlled the play and puck possession. The Leafs didn’t even record a shot until just after the seven-minute mark of the period.
Their careless play eventually led to a Mitch Marner penalty when he tripped up Michael Del Zotto and it didn’t take long for the Flyers to capitalize. Just 39 seconds into their man advantage, Wayne Simmonds tipped a Shayne Gostisbehere point shot as he stood on the very edge of Frederik Andersen’s crease. Just like that, the Flyers led by a goal in this pivotal game.
Wayne Simmonds will get credit for the goal. What a start! pic.twitter.com/oQKurygUpg
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) March 10, 2017
But it didn’t take the Leafs long to return the favour. Just six minutes after the Flyers took the lead, the Leafs were handed a power play of their own. Radko Gudas – often the subject of controversy when it comes to discipline – was called for interference on Zach Hyman as he tried to get to the puck.
While it took them nearly the entire man advantage, the Leafs were finally able to set up in the Philadelphia zone and it was a perfect wrist shot by William Nylander that found its way past Michal Neuvirth to tie the game. The goal was his 18th and ninth on the power play, tying a Leafs’ record for most power play goals by a rookie. On top of that, it was his 21st power play point which leads the Leafs this season and the 68th first period goal for the Leafs (which ties them for most in the NHL).
Watch as William Nylander fires a rocket past Michal Neuvirth for his 18th goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/9pLYvcWG5Z
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 10, 2017
Even though the Leafs didn’t get a shot until seven minutes into the frame, they were still able to out shoot the Flyers through 20 minutes by a total of 8-7.
The second period was less about the special teams (as neither team took a penalty) and instead showed just how locked in both goaltenders were on Thursday night. Andersen made a number of saves, as did Neuvirth. And Neuvirth got a lucky break at one point, as did Andersen.
In the first minute of the frame, Andersen saw a tipped shot get past him. However, the puck ricocheted off the post and bounced back into his pads and he was able to cover up. Just over seven minutes later, Connor Brown found himself alone in front of Neuvirth. Without a lot of time to spare, he fired a quick shot that found the crossbar before going out of play.
Then came arguably the biggest saves of the game for Andersen. As the Flyers broke in on a two-on-one, the Leafs goaltender stood his ground on the original attempt and was able to get back into position to save the follow-up attempt as the third Flyers’ forward broke in and got a chance.
That turned around and the Leafs got it back into the Flyers’ zone. Bozak stole the puck along the boards and as the Leafs went off for a change, the Leafs forward weaved in and out of the Flyers’ defence before firing his 16th goal of the season off the far post and in behind Neuvirth to give the Leafs a one-goal lead after 40 minutes.
— Andrew Forbes (@AndrewGForbes) March 10, 2017
Well, you had to know that a game involving the Leafs and Flyers wouldn’t end with just two penalties total. And the third period was proof of that. After yet another chance for Brown – who was stoned again by Neuvirth – Nikita Zaitsev was whistled midway through the frame for interference on Claude Giroux.
The Leafs, however, were able to kill it off and before long found themselves on their own man advantage. With just over six minutes left in the game, Brayden Schenn was called for tripping Nikita Soshnikov in the neutral zone. This time, the Leafs struck quickly.
Just nine seconds into their second power play of the game, their second shot with the man advantage in the game was fired home by Marner on just his first shot of the game. The goal came from roughly the same spot as the Nylander goal in the first and gave the Leafs a two-goal lead late.
Marner makes it 3-1 with six minutes left with this PP goal. pic.twitter.com/3EMDc2sjRp
— dylan (@dylanfremlin) March 10, 2017
But just moment later, Brown was called for tripping Brandon Manning and the Flyers were headed back to the man advantage. Again, the Leafs were able to kill it off. But with just over two minutes left, and Neuvirth pulled, the Flyers struck again to make it a one-goal game. A bullet pass to Gostisbehere at the top of the circle gave the defenceman a chance to one-time the shot and he whistled it past Andersen.
But as is the case when you pull your goaltender, you’re open to the chance of empty net goals and that’s exactly what happened as Kadri fired home his 28th goal of the year from mid-ice to help his Leafs grab two very big points in the playoff race.
PHI – Wayne Simmonds (28) PPG assisted by Shayne Gostisbehere and Claude Giroux
TOR – William Nylander (18) PPG assisted by Jake Gardiner and Connor Brown
TOR – Tyler Bozak (16) unassisted
TOR – Mitch Marner (16) PPG assisted by Morgan Rielly and Tyler Bozak
PHI – Shayne Gostisbehere (6) assisted by Valtteri Filppula and Jakub Voracek
TOR – Nazem Kadri (28) unassisted
THW Three Stars
First: Frederik Andersen (36 saves and the win)
Second: Tyler Bozak (1 goal and 1 assist)
Third: Shayne Gostisbehere (1 goal and 1 assist)
Toronto Maple Leafs at Carolina Hurricanes
PNC Arena – 7:00 p.m. EST – Saturday, March 11
Broadcast channels: CBC and FS-CR
2016-17 Season Series: Series tied 1-1-0
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.