Maple Leafs Bend but don't Break; Prevail 4-3 over Detroit

Toronto (4) Detroit (3) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Saturday, March 24, 2018

After splitting a pair of road games against two very admirable opponents, including a dominant 5-2 victory over the league-leading Nashville Predators, the Maple Leafs returned home on Saturday night.

Mike Babcock reflected highly upon his team’s performance away from home with respect to the impending playoff grind,

“I think the big thing is you enter the playoffs and every team that gets in believes they have a chance. We haven’t secured our spot yet, but we feel that we’re going to get in. We think we’re a young team that is getting better all the time.”

Toronto will close out the season by playing six of their last eight games at home, including tonight, before the quest for Lord Stanley begins on April 11th.

The Buds gave a warm welcome to the Detroit Red Wings, who have struggled mightily this season and entered the night with just a single victory in the month of March—keep in mind today is the 24th…

It took some time but Toronto would jump out to a 1-0 lead courtesy of Kasperi Kapanen at the 14:30 mark of the opening frame.  

Tyler Bozak’s initial shot was stopped by Jimmy Howard before Kapenen converged with the rebound and managed to break the ice by sneaking it past Jimmy Howard. It would mark his 7th goal of the season, that’s an 18+ goal pace while averaging just 11:35 minutes of time on ice per game in a primarily bottom-six role.

That lead would remain intact until the second period got underway and Detroit was able to flex their scoring prowess, ending Frederik Andersen’s shutout bid on the back of Dylan Larkin’s 12th goal of the season. 

Later, Andersen stopped a penalty shot on Martin Frk to keep his team in a favourable position but could not single-handedly stop the impending Red Wings attack. 

Andreas Johnsson had an opportunity to propel Toronto in front but was stoned by Jimmy Howard with an absolute robbery. Instead, the Red Wings would capitalize and take a 2-1 lead at the midway point of the second period, as Tyler Bertuzzi recorded his 3rd goal of the season. A quick flick of the wrist managed to fool Andersen all the way from the high-slot area.  

The Maple Leafs needed a spark and would receive it from Connor Brown, as he redirected Travis Dermott’s initial shot before ending up behind Howard to tie the game at 2-apiece. 

A third-period goal by Detroit appeared to break the deadlock but incidental contact was determined and ruled no goal as a result, however, the Red Wings challenged the ruling and saw it reversed once more—meaning Detroit would take a 3-2 lead after all. 

Frans Nielsen was credited with his 15th goal of the campaign and collective head-scratching ensued.

Just over two minutes later, the Maple Leafs erased the deficit to make for an exciting finish. William Nylander stripped Nick Jensen before feeding Auston Matthews in the slot, who faked a shot before returning the puck to Nylander for a wide-open cage, effectively tying the game at 3-apiece. 

Later in the period, Patrick Marleau and Nazem Kadri teamed up to give the Maple Leafs a lead for the first time since the opening period. Marleau scooped up a loose puck before bolting up-ice for a 2-on-1 with Kadri at his side, easily maneuvering through the offensive zone. 

The pair connected for a one-timer and soon Kadri had his 29th tally of the season—giving Toronto a 4-3 advantage. Mitch Marner also extended his consecutive points streak to eight-straight games with a secondary assist on the play. 

Despite a late push from Detroit, the final score would remain 4-3 in favour of the Maple Leafs when it was all said and done. Toronto is firmly entrenched in 3rd place of the Atlantic Division and are largely unaffected by wins or losses at this point, but will be looking to end the season on a high-note nonetheless.

This marks Toronto's 45th win of the season, matching the single-season franchise record set in the 1998-99 season and subsequently tied in 1999-00 and 2003-04.

It will be a quick turnaround for Toronto, who will have a chance to break the franchise record on Monday night with the Buffalo Sabres in town for a visit. History could be made! Puck drop is set at 7 p.m. EST.

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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs