Vegas Flu Strikes the Maple Leafs on New Year's Eve

Vegas (6) Toronto (3) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Sunday, December 31, 2017

A rare Sunday afternoon game saw the Maple Leafs pitted against the NHL’s surprise story of 2017 — the Vegas Golden Knights, which was only fitting for a New Years Eve matchup at T-Mobile Arena. Either franchise has seen dramatic changes in the past year ranging from the emergence of Vegas’ franchise itself, to Toronto becoming a legitimate offensive juggernaut.

The Golden Knights came in riding a six-game winning streak, which is the longest for any team in its inaugural season. Meanwhile, the Buds had managed to earn 3/4 points on the road in Arizona and Colorado — most recently dropping a 3-2 overtime decision on Friday against the Avalanche.

This would mark a big test for the Leafs in particular, with it being the first of two consecutive games against division leaders — Vegas and Tampa Bay.

Malcolm Subban got the nod in between the pipes for Vegas.

Unluckily for Toronto, they would be without their shutdown centreman for a second-straight game. After leaving Thursday’s contest with a disclosed upper-body injury, Nazem Kadri is assumed by many to have a concussion. Auston Matthews has been forced into taking on tougher matchups — something Kadri is normally tasked with in order to lighten his load.

Toronto arrived in Sin City with time to kill before taking to the ice, which didn’t seem to phase Mike Babcock, apparently; “There’s lots of things to do in Vegas. They know we’re in the middle of three games in four days. They know how important the game is, so they’ll be professional.”

Well, he may have had a change of heart following the opening twenty minutes.

Vegas exploded out to a 2-0 lead within the first five minutes of play and looked to be leaving Toronto in the dusty desert before they could even find their legs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare broke the ice and kicked things off before William Karlsson doubled their lead just moments later.

Erik Haula later notched his 14th tally of the season for a comfortable 3-0 lead before intermission. A quick breakout saw Colin Miller advance the puck to David Perron, who then connected with Haula speeding down the wing. As soon as he gained the zone, Haula unleashed a blistering wrist shot and managed to fool Frederik Andersen.

Vegas may have escaped the opening frame with a 3-0 advantage, but Toronto stormed right back come time for the second.

Patrick Marleau got on the board to end Subban’s shutout bid with a cleanup of Connor Brown’s initial shot. Brown simply got his shot on net but Subban proved unable to handle it and allowed Marleau to convert on a juicy rebound.

Martin Marincin attempted to swing the puck around his own net, but instead found the skates of a man in stripes — it surely wasn’t a favourable bounce for Toronto, either. Instead of breaking out, the puck wound up off the skates of a referee and onto William Karlsson’s stick to set up his second goal of the afternoon.

In the last minute of play, the Leafs were able to make it a two-goal game courtesy of Auston Matthews’ 16th of the season. Zach Hyman advanced the puck to Matthews, who did the rest with a slick wrist shot narrowly under Subban’s arm.

Auston Matthews picked up right where he left off when the third period rolled around.

The silent assassin needed all-but 0:27 seconds to make a one-goal game in what would be his 100th career NHL point. William Nylander and Morgan Rielly hooked up to get a shot on goal, which was turned aside by Subban, however, a rebound was left for the taking.

Taketh he did. With Subban scrambled out of position, Matthews easily found the back of a practically empty net to make it 4-3.

Toronto’s comeback was short-lived as Jonathan Marchessault’s 14th of the year restored Vegas’ two-goal lead, which they wouldn’t look back from. William Karlsson added an empty-net insurance marker to complete the hat-trick and a 6-3 shellacking of the Maple Leafs.

Not the finish they were looking for before spending New Year's Eve in Las Vegas.

The Buds will return home on Tuesday evening for meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Puck drop is set at 7:00 p.m. EST inside Air Canada Centre.

On a side note, Toronto will honour the late Johnny Bower on Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018 at Air Canada Centre — the public service is open to all. Doors open at 2:00 p.m. EST at Gate 1 and the service will get underway at 3:00 p.m.

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca

On Twitter - @GordBrown_

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs