Auston Matthews Delivers Toronto to Victory with 0:31 Seconds Remaining

Toronto (3) Detroit (2) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Maple Leafs arrived in Detroit on Sunday for the second leg of a back-to-back situation after suffering a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. It put an end to their five-game winning streak and left a sour taste in Mike Babcock’s mouth, prompting lineup changes from the man himself.

Roman Polak was scratched in favour of Connor Carrick on the back-end, leaving Toronto’s four potent forward lines intact. That meant Matt Martin’s stint as a healthy scratch would reach a twelfth straight game, with no clear end in sight.

As is the procedure in such situations, Frederik Andersen had the night off for a well-deserved rest while Curtis McElhinney started in between the pipes, looking to improve upon a personal 6-4-0 record.

It just so happened that the Red Wings were coming off of a Saturday night game as well—one that had a much different result despite taking on the 2017 Stanley Cup Finalists. Detroit took down the mighty Nashville Predators with a 3-1 victory on the road before returning home for a date with the Leafs. 

A scoreless first period saw chances at either end, however, both goalies stood tall to keep respective shooters in-order.

Detroit broke the deadlock early in the second frame with a power play goal courtesy of Anthony Mantha, his 20th goal of the season. Tomas Tatar connected Gustav Nyquist located in the slot, where he took a first shot that found its way past Curtis McElhinney. Mantha redirected the puck in front of the net to give his team a 1-0 lead just 5:51 in.

The offence really began to heat up at this point as Toronto struck once just over a minute later to tie the game, and again just 0:18 seconds later to take a 2-1 advantage.

James van Rimesdyk notched his 24th with a tip-in over Petr Mrazek to even the score at one-apiece. The initial shot came courtesy of Jake Gardiner, posting his 32nd assist as he looks poised to shatter a career-high of 34. 

Toronto’s high-tempo offence went right back to work on the ensuing face-off and managed to score another quick goal. Nazem Kadri chased down a dump-in before feeding Mitch Marner in the high-slot, where he pulled a slick toe drag to wait-out Xavier Ouellet before sniping a wrist shot past Mrazek. Mitch Marner’s 14th held up as the difference until the intermission.

Following a solid stretch of play from the Maple Leafs, Detroit managed to counter and find an equalizer in the third period.

Maple Leaf defenders were caught admiring Gustav Nyquist, who weaved his way through the offensive zone before threading a perfect backdoor pass to Henrik Zetterberg, which he easily tipped behind McElhinney to tie the game. 

It appeared as though this game was destined for overtime, however, that wasn’t about to be the case if Auston Matthews had anything to say about it. 

A last-minute face-off in the offensive zone saw a scramble off the draw, leading to a puck battle in the corner between Zach Hyman and Nick Jensen—William Nylander went on to scoop up the loose puck before feeding Auston Matthews waiting on the opposite side of the net.

Nylander’s cross-crease pass managed to find Matthews’ stick, leaving Red Wing defenders in damage prevention mode before sniping a perfect shot past Petr Mrazek, with just 0:31 seconds left in regulation time no-less.

Detroit mustered enough firepower for one last-gasp rush only to be denied by Curtis McElhinney once more, who finished with 27 total saves on the night.

The Buds enjoy what’s left of the Family Day long weekend in Ontario before hosting the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. Believe it or not, Florida currently sits just 6-points out of the final Wild Card spot with five games in-hand… That could prove to be a dangerous combination down the stretch run and Toronto may have their hands full to kick-off a busy work week.

Puck drop is set at 7:00 p.m. EST.

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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs