Avalanche Double-Up on the Maple Leafs for a 4-2 Victory

Colorado (4) Toronto (2) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Toronto ended what was an ugly four-game losing skid versus Ottawa on Saturday—and they were looking to make it two-in-a-row with Colorado in town for a visit on Monday.

Morgan Rielly would sit out his second straight game and be officially placed on Injured Reserve shortly before game-time. I would expect him to remain out of the lineup at least until after the All-Star break, which is this upcoming weekend. Toronto plays three games over that span including tonight. 

Mike Babcock initially thought he’d have to scratch one of the kids on defense, whom he thought performed admirably on Saturday, 

'I didn’t know what the heck I was gonna do anyway. All three of those kids played good. How was I going to scratch one? Now I don’t have to make a decision.' 

They would be in for a stiff test against the Avalanche, who came in riding a nine-game winning streak as the hottest team in the NHL right now. In fact, Colorado’s streak began with a 4-3 overtime win against the Maple Leafs on December 29th. 

Former Maple Leafs goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, entered the Monday riding a personal eight-game winning streak in relief of an injured Semyon Varlamov.

Furthermore, the Avs have seen a dramatic uprising with an 18-10-3 record since departing from Matt Duchene after he successfully requested a trade. Prosperity certainly didn’t seem like a possibility. Within all of that, they currently find themselves on the verge of a possible, yet improbable playoff berth.

Despite generating plenty of offense on the weekend, Toronto’s Mitch Marner still found himself on the short end of Connor Brown’s recent success and was back on the fourth line. The promotion saw Brown take Marner’s usual place alongside James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak.

As the action got underway, it didn’t take long for Colorado to break the ice and take an early 1-0 lead.

What appeared to be a harmless shot in transition by Tyson Jost turned out to be a quick strike for the Avs after Gabriel Bourque converted on the rebound for his 2nd goal of the season.

That same lead would hold up until the intermission—but Toronto opened the second period with a vengeance and managed to secure an equalizer early on. 

After breaking out of their own end, Leo Komarov entered the offensive zone with speed and threw on the breaks before feeding Patrick Marleau for a hulking one-time slap-shot past Jonathan Bernier just 0:19 seconds in. Jake Gardiner picked up a secondary assist on the play.

Marleau’s 16th goal of the season would mark the 524th tally of his career, moving him into a tie with Brian Trottier for 35th place in NHL history.

Moments later, Mikko Rantanen nearly helped the Avs re-take the lead with a wicked wrist-shot, however, it was determined to hit the crossbar and not the back of the net. Instead, the Leafs would go on to take a 2-1 advantage after facing a spurt of animosity.

Auston Matthews had secured a lead for his Maple Leafs with a gritty goal in the crease—where he put home the puck, which bounced off of Hyman before ending up behind Bernier. 

Upon review, the goal would be disallowed as a result of a successful challenge for goaltender interference. Mike Babcock was livid and it prompted a well-deserved “referees suck” chant from the crowd.

On their next shift opportunity, the Matthews line came back looking to reclaim the lost goal.

It happened rather fast, as William Nylander entered the offensive zone with a head of steam before delivering an opposite side shot—essentially setting up Matthews for his 21st goal of the season on a seemingly empty net.

The 2-1 lead wouldn’t stay intact for long, as Borgman fanned on a simple pass to his defensive partner and allowed for an odd-man rush to get behind him. Alexander Kerfoot and Nail Yakupov raced down the ice before finishing the play with a one-timer past Frederik Andersen, breaking Toronto’s electrifying momentum in the process.

To make matters worse, the deadlock remained untouched until it came down to the final stretch of regulation time and Blake Comeau managed to edge his team ahead. Comeau gained positioning on Auston Matthews as play moved up-ice and managed to redirect Carl Soderberg’s feed past Andersen in transition for a 3-2 lead. 

Toronto’s last-gasp opportunity came with Andersen being pulled in favour of an extra attacker, only to come up short thanks to Gabriel Landeskog drilling a final nail into the coffin—his 17th goal on the year.

Bernier went on to notch his ninth straight victory on the back of a 26 save performance, adding to what has been a career-best streak thus far. Despite several antagonizing “Bernier” chants from the same fans who used to sing his praise, Jonathan was able to get the job done for what is his team’s tenth win in-a-row. 

In a post-game interview with Shawn MacKenzie, he wasn’t necessarily shy about his thoughts on beating his former team, either,

“Definitely, definitely, that was a game I was looking at on the calendar,”—referring to the satisfaction of a victory against Toronto.

The Buds are beginning to tremble on the edge of must-need wins as they continue to slip and middle-out in league standings. Although an uninspiring Red Wings squad is the next closest team in the Atlantic Division at 12-points back, they do have three games in hand and possess the element of surprise.

What can happen when there’s nothing to lose? It's an age-old question with differing outcomes. 

Toronto will have two more tests before the impending All-Star break, beginning with a trip to Chicago on Wednesday for a date with the Blackhawks. Puck drop is set at 8:00 p.m. EST.

 

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E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca

On Twitter - @GordBrown_

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs