Leafs Blow Another Third-Period Lead; Fall 3-2 to Flyers

Philadelphia (3) Toronto (2) Final (OT)

By: Gordon Brown

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Maple Leafs have had immense trouble holding down third-period leads as of late despite appearing to have kicked their old, repulsing habit in the first half of the season. Defensive shortcomings have resulted in Toronto dropping three straight decisions—two of which came as a result of blown third-period leads before falling in either overtime or a shootout

Bad habits aren’t something the Leafs wish to develop in the season’s second half—they have to hope this is simply a learning curve and nothing more. Toronto would have an opportunity to turn the page and change that narrative with a matchup on the road in Philadelphia.

Thursday’s pre-game ceremony featured the retiring and raising of Eric Lindros’ number 88 to the rafters in an hour-long celebration. The 44-year-old Hockey Hall of Famer spent 8 seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, totalling 486 games while racking up 659 points in that span. Mistreatment of his health, namely concussions, led to an ugly exit from the team and was based on a tainted relationship with former Flyers GM, Bobby Clarke. This kept Lindros distant from the organization for quite some time until recently.

Time can tend to heal certain wounds on occasion.

Furthermore, Philadelphia recently saw their four-game winning streak come to an end on Tuesday night. A 5-1 loss to the Rangers saw Brian Elliott pulled after allowing five goals on just 21 shots in two periods. Michael Neuvirth stopped all 8 shots he faced in relief.

Dave Hakstol elected to go with the hot-hand in Neuvirth against a slumping Leafs offence—there was a prime opportunity to steal the crease from Elliott, at least for the time being.

It turned out to be a goaltending battle from the get-go as either team battled it out for a scoreless first period. Neuvirth turned away 8 shots compared to Frederik Andersen’s 9, while Toronto dominated possession with a 62.07 CF% after twenty minutes of play.

In the blink of an eye, the ice was finally broken in the second frame as Toronto posted a pair of goals in back-to-fashion for a 2-0 lead.

Connor Brown kicked things off with a shorthanded marker to stun the home crown and give his Maple Leafs an upper-hand for the second game in-a-row. The pass that was initially intended for Shayne Gostisbehere at the blue line, ended up on Brown’s stick for a breakaway. An individual effort by the 23-year-old resulted in a stare-down with Neuvirth, before solving him five-hole and notching his 12th tally of the season.

Fast forward 0:28 seconds later, and the Maple Leafs had managed to double their lead.

The ensuing series of events left Philadelphia defenders scrambling to contain an approaching Maple Leafs breakout. William Nylander entered the zone with speed and vengeance before dropping the puck off to Jake Gardiner, who laid a shot on goal. A blatant rebound popped into the air for Frederik Gauthier to convert upon—his 1st goal of the season.

Before the end of the frame, Morgan Rielly fell awkwardly to the ice and left in noticeable discomfort—but would luckily return for the third.

Eventually, the third period rolled around and Toronto’s 2-0 lead was still fully intact. As it stood, the Maple Leafs could close out the final twenty minutes of regulation and walk away with a well-deserved victory…

Well, sometimes it’s just too good to be true. Could third-period collapses become a norm for the Buds once more?

Nolan Patrick was able to get his team on the board just 1:33 into the third, cutting Philly’s deficit in half. The 2017 2nd overall pick followed up his own rebound and stripped the puck from Mitch Marner behind the net. In doing so, Andersen was still recovering from the initial shot and struggled to regroup before Patrick tucked it in beside the post.

A Maple Leafs power play offered an opportunity for Toronto to restore their two-goal advantage courtesy of an Andrew MacDonald hooking penalty.

Toronto was caught up-ice with too many men in deep and allowed for the duo of Wayne Simmonds alongside Valtteri Filppula to enter Leafs territory with ease. Morgan Rielly was left as the lone defender and failed to contain the one-time feed from Filppula, who connected with Simmonds for the equalizer.

Frederik Andersen did his best to play both the shot and pass, but evidently over-committed to the shot. Typically Rielly’s responsibility is to take away the pass in this situation.

As a result, this game would remain deadlocked at 2-apiece following sixty minutes of play. Tonight would be a second-straight opportunity, third in their last three games, to seal a victory in overtime and avoid blowing yet another third-period lead.

The extra frame would prove crucial for Toronto’s well-being and late-game reputation, however, that was an afterthought if the Flyers’ leading goal-scorer had anything to say about it.

Sean Couturier needed just 0:18 seconds to dispose of the Leafs and move his team 3-points out of the second and final Wild Card position—with several games in hand.

Handing the Leafs what seems like a very quiet fourth-straight loss, the team has found a way to keep games close but apparently can't seem to close them out—much like the Leafs of old. These losses are beginning to look reminiscent of Toronto’s same issues from last season.

Mike Babcock will be sure to do his best in addressing these issues before Saturday night’s rematch with the Senators. After dropping a close 4-3 decision to Ottawa before the bye week, the Leafs will be looking for redemption in more ways than one on Hockey Night in Canada. Puck drop is set at 7:00 p.m. EST.

TML Takeaways:

- Leafs blow another third-period lead, lose in OT

- Frederik Andersen stood on his head with 34 saves and deserved a better outcome (again)

- Auston Matthews was 27% on face-offs

- The JVR - Bozak - Marner line still can’t be trusted defensively—all three finished (-2)

- Connor Brown is still an underrated wizard

- Nazem Kadri extends his goalless drought to 5 games despite a pair of quality shots on goal—including a breakaway

- Kadri has 1 goal in his last 18 games

- Leo Komarov bests that with just 1 goal in his last 21 games

- William Nylander (13:50) had less TOI than Leo Komarov (15:35) and Connor Brown (15:23)

- Freddy Gauthier played a solid 10:53 TOI and didn’t look out of place—finished (+1) and scored once on 3 SOG

- Morgan Rielly appears to be A-OK following second-period injury scare

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca

On Twitter - @GordBrown_

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs