It wasn’t exactly the start the Colorado Avalanche were looking for coming off a 10-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. For the Leafs, however, it was exactly what they wanted playing in front of rookie Antoine Bibeau.
The Leafs fired all they had at the last place Colorado Avalanche and goaltender Semyon Varlamov with a total of 52 shots in the game, but could only solve the 28-year-old once. The victory gave Colorado just their second win over their past nine games and helped deflate the disappointment of their loss to the Habs on Saturday night.
While it wasn’t their best game of the season, the Avs were able to do just enough. On the other hand, the Leafs played an unbelievable game doing so many things right, but just couldn’t get the puck past a hot Varlamov on this night.
The Leafs came out with a flurry of opportunities in the first period of the second half of their back-to-back on Sunday. The young skaters in blue and white were flying – out skating the Avs’ players for most of the first frame.
While it wasn’t as physical as their matchup against the Bruins on Saturday, Colorado did come out against the Leafs with something to prove following their abysmal performance the night before. Colorado didn’t get too many chances on the Leafs rookie goaltender, but the opportunities they did get were quality scoring chances.
The Leafs had a season-high 21 shots in the first period compared to Colorado’s eight. The Leafs also had two power play opportunities without anything to show for it. Late in their second power play – a tripping penalty to Rene Bourque – Tyler Bozak was whistled for tripping Gabriel Landeskog which gave the Avalanche a late power play with just under two minutes to play in the period.
With about a minute left in the period and the power play, the Avs notched their eighth shot of the period. With Bibeau out of position following a shot from his right side, Mikko Rantanen fired the puck into the open cage to give the Avs a 1-0 lead heading into the second period.
Aside from that goal, which Bibeau had zero chance on, the rookie goaltender had a good first period in his NHL debut.
The second period had more of a back-and-forth feel. The Leafs continued to press which resulted in (more/another) power plays, while the Avs managed to up their game following the late first period goal that gave them the lead.
Bibeau continued to stand tall at the other end coming up with a number of big saves including one that came on an odd-man rush.
Bibeau with a big save on a 2 on 1. Frustrates John Mitchell who was looking for his 2nd goal in the last 3 games. #tmltalk
— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) December 12, 2016
The little bit of chippy play that did find its way into the game reached a peak with 6:32 left in the second when Matt Martin picked up his physical play along the boards and Nikita Zadorov took exception. The two engaged in a quick fisticuffs that ended with Zadorov taking down Martin with what looked like more of a grapple move.
The Avs managed to up their shot total with 15 in the second period, but the Leafs still led in that category following the frame 31-23.
The third didn’t start great for the Avs as their captain took a two-minute boarding call only 18 seconds into the period. However, Colorado was able to kill that off and momentum shifted from the Leafs to the Avalanche bench.
Toronto went on to take two penalties – including a double minor to Komarov for high-sticking – and the Avs were able to extend their lead at the tail end of the first penalty as MacKinnon got in and put one past Bibeau.
Nathan MacKinnon takes a high-stick and then scores a filthy goal. Wow. pic.twitter.com/04zoVUTtzS
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 12, 2016
Both teams traded opportunities as the period went on, until the final few minutes. The Leafs started pressing again late in the period and though it was a subtle shift of the net, Patrick Wiercioch was called for delay of game. That was followed by another penalty to Zadorov who cross checked Kadri and the Maple Leafs were able to capitalize as Jake Gardiner fired home a bullet from the point.
The Leafs continue to press with the extended power play but the Avs were able to fire one into the empty net at the other end of the ice – Blake Comeau’s fifth – to extend their lead 3-1 and put the icing on the cake that was a big win for a struggling Avalanche team.
While Bibeau came up big a number of times in his first NHL game, his counterpart at the other end of the ice was just that much better as the Leafs fired 52 shots on Semyon Varlamov – beating him only once. It certainly won’t be the last time you hear Bibeau’s name this year, however, as you can imagine he’s earned himself another start behind a solid start for the Maple Leafs.
COL – Mikko Rantanen PPG (4) assisted by Matt Duchene and Jarome Iginla
COL – Nathan MacKinnon PPG (8) assisted by Tyson Barrie and Semyon Varlamov
TOR – Jake Gardiner PPG (5) assisted by Nikita Zaitsev and Mitch Marner
COL – Blake Comeau SHG (5) unassisted
THW Three Stars
First: Semyon Varlamov (51 saves and an assist)
Second: Nathan MacKinnon (GWG and 6 shots)
Third: Antoine Bibeau (26 saves in NHL debut)
San Jose Sharks at Toronto Maple Leafs
Air Canada Centre – 7:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday, December 13
Broadcast channels – TSN4 and CSN-CA
2016-17 Season Series: First Matchup of the Season
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.