Matthews Leaves and Does Not Return; Leafs Rally to 4-3 Shootout Win

Toronto (4) New York (3)

By: Gordon Brown

Friday, February 23, 2018

The New York Islanders traveled to Toronto for round three of the season series, having lost a blowout game to the Maple Leafs just three weeks ago. In wake of that 5-0 game, Toronto looked poised to take a stranglehold of the season series and extend their winning streak to three games—which is exactly what they did. 

Additionally, a seven-game winning streak on home ice was on the line for Toronto at Air Canada Centre.

Reports indicated Matt Martin was prepared to jump back into the lineup to replace an undisclosed player due to illness, however, this was not the case and Martin remained a healthy scratch for a twelfth game in-a-row. 

As the action got underway, New York managed to strike early and often to take a commanding 2-0 advantage in the opening frame.

Ryan Pulock fooled nearly everyone in the building, including Frederik Andersen, with a heavy slap shot from the point that hit off the back netting before bouncing directly out. Following a moment of confusion, it was determined that the puck did, in fact, enter the net for a good goal. Pulock’s 6th tally of the season came courtesy of another assist for the rookie points leader, Matthew Barzal.

Moments later, the rookie points leader was back at it again to double his team’s lead. After going sixteen games without a goal, Matthew Barzal recorded his 17th of the season for his second point of the night within a span of several minutes.

It wasn’t all silence on Toronto’s end, as the Leafs managed to get on the board before the end of the first period. Mitch Marner potted his 15th goal of the season and 10th in his last 16 games to continue his hot-streak since joining forces with both Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau. With the puck on his stick, the slick sophomore out-waited both Sebastian Aho and Jaroslav Halak before beating the goaltender with a five-hole shot.

Morgan Rielly helped create the play by driving towards the net and diverting several defenders along the way.

A scoreless second period meant the final twenty minutes of regulation would have to solve this one, barring overtime.

The Maple Leafs stormed out of the gate and managed to find an equalizer just 1:28 into the frame. Morgan Rielly netted his 6th after he and Connor Brown broke off for a two-on-one break into the offensive zone, where Rielly unleashed a wrist shot upstairs to reignite the home crowd.

New York continued to press the attack and did not appear prepared to give up their lead so easily… Matthew Barzal recorded his third point of the night with an assist on Jordan Eberle’s go-ahead goal. A fortuitous bounce saw Eberle’s errant backhand, from behind the goal-line, end up behind Andersen after redirecting off of Nikita Zaitsev’s skate and into his own net.

With 75 third period goals, the New York Islanders now rank 2nd overall in the NHL.

It appeared the Islanders were on their way to a third win in four games—but not if Auston Matthews had something to say about it.

Upon entering the offensive zone, Jake Gardiner pulled up and allowed the play to develop in front of himself before making a decision with the puck. Gardiner located a teammate in front of the crease and elected for a slap-pass instead of taking the shot, connecting with none other than Matthews himself. Toronto’s star came through with a highly-skilled play to redirect the puck past Jaroslav Halak and tie the game at 3-apiece with under four minutes remaining.  

Before time could expire, a scary incident for Leafs Nation and hockey fans alike involving Auston Matthews resulted in a possible injury to the young phenom. During an up-ice rush, Adam Pelech and Cal Clutterbuck sandwiched Matthews from either side and appeared to do some damage on his shoulder. 

He went to the room for further evaluation and did not return the rest of the night. 

An exciting overtime period was not enough to decide a victor, meaning a shootout would be necessary in order to do so. 

Tyler Bozak had been the shootout hero in Toronto’s last two chances, prompting Mike Babcock to send him out as the very first shooter—to which he made no mistake, once again. Despite being the first shooter, he happened to be the only one to score in three rounds.

Frederik Andersen stood tall and turned away three talented goal-scorers; Jordan Eberle, Matthew Barzal, and John Tavares, in that order, to record his 31st victory (31-16-0-4) and improve upon his bid for the Vezina Trophy. 

These two opponents will see a rematch take place on Friday, March 30th in what will be the season series finale—New York will host at the Barclay’s Center.

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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs