If the storyline wasn’t already focused on the first and second picks from the NHL’s latest draft heading into the game on Tuesday night between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets, they made sure the post-game talk was about them.
In their second and final meeting this season, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine combined for two goals and three assists in what was another high-scoring affair between these two clubs. Matthews had three assists in this one including assisting on the overtime winner as his Leafs went on to win 5-4. While, on the other side of the puck, Laine notched two goals to reach the 30-goal plateau in his first season in the NHL.
But looking past those two, Josh Leivo continued his hot play for the Leafs grabbing another two assists with William Nylander (1g-1a), Jake Gardiner (1g-1a), Leo Komarov (2g-0a), Mark Scheifele (0g-2a) and Mathieu Perreault (0g-2a) all recording two points of their own as well.
When it came down to it, however, it wasn’t the individual efforts that these teams were focused on. Instead, both clubs were simply looking for two points to help them in their respective playoff races.
It was a quick start for the Leafs as they scored just over a minute into the game and it was a weak one at that. Picking up the puck in the corner, Leo Komarov was lined up with the goal line and fired the puck on Hellebuyck. While it was one that the Winnipeg goalie would definitely want back, Komarov’s shot squeaked through to give the Leafs an early lead.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 22, 2017
It was the 33rd time the Leafs opened the scoring this season and before tonight’s win, the Leafs were 22-5-5 in games that they scored first.
Andersen followed the goal up with a number of big saves, but Hellebuyck was up to the challenge as well. A couple minutes later, Josh Leivo was sent in alone but the Jets goalie came up with a big save.
But as it’s often said, icing the puck can come back to haunt teams and the Leafs witnessed that first hand. After the puck was fired down the ice by the Leafs, Scheifele won the face-off and kept it in the Leafs zone. He spotted Laine high in the slot and got the puck to the phenom. The puck had barely touched Laine’s stick before he fired it past Andersen to tie the game.
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) February 22, 2017
That seemed to get Matthews going as he got a quick chance following the Jets’ goal. But Hellebuyck was able to kick out his pad to make the save on the Leafs’ rookie. About midway through the period, Kadri took a silly penalty behind the Jets net when he took down Byfuglien and that would prove costly.
Just 29 seconds into the power play, Bryan Little came charging into the slot and picked up the loose puck. His wrister got past the Leafs net minder to give Winnipeg the 2-1 lead. The Jets and Little almost added another, but the play was reviewed and it was determined that Little’s stick was over the crossbar when it made contact.
The second was much of the same – a number of penalties mixed in with some extremely impressive offensive showcasing. While the Leafs were 1-14-3 when trailing after the first coming into this game, it didn’t stop them from pushing back when the Jets pulled ahead.
Five minutes in, Kadri hit the post with a shot from the sideboards. That was followed by a big save on either end when Andersen stopped Wheeler in close and Hellebuyck came up big on Nylander’s attempt from the slot.
That’s where the penalty trouble started for both clubs. Twelve minutes in Zach Hyman was whistled for high-sticking Nikolaj Ehlers. Fifty seconds later the Winnipeg bench was called for too many men. Fortunately both penalties were killed off.
But with just over four minutes left, Kadri was sent in alone by Leivo. Kadri pulled the puck to his back hand and tucked one in past Hellebuyck’s outstretched pad.
Just over a minute and a half later, Ehlers tipped the Josh Morrissey point shot in the slot and it got past Andersen. The Jets took the lead back and it wasn’t done there.
After Ehlers took a holding penalty on Hyman with just over a minute left in the period, Nylander took advantage. Circling off the side boards, he was able to break back down deep into the Jets’ zone. He found Komarov sneaking in on the far side of the net and fired a pass across the slot. Komarov was able to pick up the pass and fired home his second goal of the game.
But with just three seconds left in the frame, Laine picked up the puck off a scramble in front of the Leafs net. With the mess still circling the crease, Laine fired a shot from high in the slot and it ricocheted off Andersen and into the back of the net for his second of the contest. At the same time, Matt Martin and Byfuglien were given five minutes for fighting and Laine and Leivo were handed roughing minors to close out the period.
— NHL (@NHL) February 22, 2017
The third was relatively uneventful. However, the Leafs had some work to do if they wanted to grab two big points. So, the penalties continued early as Scheifele, Kadri and Chris Thorburn were all whistled for roughing just under two minutes into the period.
That opened the door for the comeback. Matthews fired a puck hard off the end boards and it bounced right out to Nylander who was waiting on the other side of the net. Nylander picked it up and fired it into the Jets’ net before Hellebuyck could get across.
After that, both goalies had a couple of big saves, but it seemed fitting that this contest went to overtime just like the first meeting between these two teams (and two players – Matthews and Laine) this season.
Two of the quicker teams in the league, overtime in today’s NHL plays right into their hands – at least on paper. But there were only three shots in the extra frame this time around.
And it was just 2:35 into the overtime period when the Leafs broke in on a two-on-one break with Gardiner and Nylander. The Jets defender went down to take away the pass, so Gardiner decided to keep the puck. He slid into the centre part of the slot and fired a hard wrist shot that found its way past Hellebuyck to complete the comeback for the Maple Leafs and earning them a big win in the playoff race.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 22, 2017
TOR – Leo Komarov (9) assisted by Josh Leivo and Nikita Zaitsev
WPG – Patrik Laine (29) assisted by Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault
WPG – Bryan Little (17) PPG assisted by Adam Lowry and Dustin Byfuglien
TOR – Nazem Kadri (25) assisted by Josh Leivo and Morgan Rielly
WPG – Nikolaj Ehlers (20) assisted by Josh Morrissey and Blake Wheeler
TOR – Leo Komarov (10) PPG assisted by William Nylander and Auston Matthews
WPG – Patrik Laine (30) assisted by Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault
TOR – William Nylander (17) PPG assisted by Auston Matthews and Jake Gardiner
TOR – Jake Gardiner (9) assisted by Auston Matthews
THW Three Stars
First: Auston Matthews (3 assists, 1 shot, 18:38)
Second: Patrik Laine (2 goals, 2 shots, 17:15)
Third: Jake Gardiner (GWG, 1 assist)
New York Rangers at Toronto Maple Leafs
Air Canada Centre – 7:30 p.m. EST – Thursday, February 23
Broadcast channels – TVAS, SNO and MSG
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.