Nylander Delivers Maple Leafs to First Win in the Windy City Since 2003

Toronto (3) Chicago (2) Final (OT)

By: Gordon Brown

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

It’s the final stretch of games before NHL All-Star Weekend and teams aren’t preparing for an excursion of fun-filled events in sunny Tampa Bay, Florida, just yet.

The Maple Leafs, in particular, found themselves on the road for a set of back-to-back games on the west coast. Although it isn’t time to hit the panic button just yet, Toronto has fallen in five of their last six with a 1-2-3 record over that stretch to show for it.

Beginning a road trip in Chicago typically isn’t seen as a particularly easy task, either. Especially if you haven’t won there since 2003, which the Leafs haven’t. 

Mike Babcock elected to go with a new-look forward lineup in order to bolster his team’s offence away from home—even going as far as the fourth line. Kasperi Kapanen was recalled from the AHL Toronto Marlies in a swap that saw Freddy Gauthier sent back the other way.

Most notably in the realignment, Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau were slotted on either side of Nazem Kadri in what seems like an untraditional tactic by Toronto’s bench-boss. The move could be intended to prompt a resurgence in Kadri’s game, who’s posted just 2 points in his last 20 games. Others might argue that it’s a direct response to what many fans have called for all season long…

Toronto's lineup started as follows: 

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander 

Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown

Leo Komarov - Dominic Moore - Kasperi Kapanen 

On the Blackhawk’s bench, scoring has been an inherent issue as of late with just six goals to show for over their last five games. A struggling power play that ranks 29th league-wide has surely been a key contributor to Chicago’s scoring woes.

We haven’t even touched on the goaltender, Corey Crawford, who’s still dealing with what is being described as an upper-body injury—but appears to be on track for a possible return more quickly than originally anticipated. Jeff Glass has stepped into the crease with mixed results thus far and most recently dropped a narrow 2-0 decision versus Tampa Bay on Monday night.

Glass is a true journeyman at 32-years-old and even had a two-game stint with the Toronto Marlies last season. He’s still a rookie by definition but missed the official NHL cut-off by about six years considering eligibility ends after age 26.

There was plenty of buzz for what was a nationally televised Wednesday Night Rivalry game in the United States, where they don’t always have the privilege of seeing Auston Matthews on their television screens. To add to their viewing pleasure, the American-born star came in with goals in two-straight games against both Ottawa and Colorado respectively.

I was lucky enough to attend the last matchup between these two all the way back on October 9th—which ended with a triumphant Maple Leafs comeback capped in overtime by none-other than Auston Matthews himself.

As the action got underway, it was clear Toronto’s new-look lineup troubled Joel Quenneville as he chased certain matchups in the early goings… It wouldn’t make much of a difference after Tyler Bozak fell victim to the game’s first penalty infraction, with a slash against David Kampf at the 5:18 mark.

Chicago managed to make out just fine on the man advantage and would end an 0/16 power-play drought accumulated over their last five games. 

An umbrella-style power play cycled possession around the perimeter until Patrick Kane connected with Brent Seabrook from behind the goal-line. Seabrook received the puck in the high slot before settling it down and unleashing a slap shot past Frederik Andersen, effectively breaking the ice to make it 1-0.

Later in the frame, Tyler Bozak appeared to find the equalizer with under five minutes left, however, it was overturned due to obvious goaltender interference caused by James van Riemsdyk—Babcock didn’t even think about challenging the call.

When push came to shove, Toronto’s best line in the period finally broke through to tie the game before time expired. 

Upon setting up in the offensive zone, Ron Hainsey attempted a shot on goal but instead fanned and watched the puck bounce to his blue-line partner, Jake Gardiner. Once possessed, Gardiner directed a quick shot towards Jeff Glass, only for Mitch Marner to redirect it into the net for an equalizer before heading to the dressing room for intermission.

Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau played a pivotal role in establishing prolonged pressure inside of Blackhawks territory.

The second period went scoreless and a 1-1 deadlock remained after forty minutes of play.

Toronto was given a power play opportunity early in the third period courtesy of Tomas Jurco, who impeded Connor Brown for an interface penalty. On the impending sequence, Toronto broke through as Tyler Bozak located Nazem Kadri—who was sitting behind Chicago’s net-minder before being fed with a crisp pass to redirect into the net, which he did with ease. 

Kadri looked evidently relieved to record his 15th goal of the season and just his second goal in 21 games.

Don't think Chicago didn’t storm right back, though.

Vinnie Hinostroza manned the power play and created a scramble for the puck in front of Andersen after his shot found the net. Artem Anisimov attempted to convert on the rebound but was stopped by Andersen, so he decided to fall on top of the goalie instead. In doing so, Nick Schmaltz managed to secure the rebound and easily flip his shot over the disabled puck-stopper.

The ruling was challenged by Babcock after his own team was hurt by a similar call on Monday. To nobody’s surprise, the ruling was controversial and Toronto’s bench-boss was furious with the outcome; It was a good goal and the game was now tied 2-apiece.

Dear, Gary Bettman. Please fix the parameters of goaltender interference. Sincerely, everyone.

As time wound down, Matthews had the game on his stick with under 0:10 seconds left but would miss high-and-wide before sending the game to overtime. The Buds should be all-too-familiar with the extra frame at this point, considering they came in with just 1 regulation win in their last 11 games.

Overtime began at a very fast pace, as William Nylander had himself a breakaway directly off of the draw—only to be slashed by Duncan Keith on his way to the net. The play resulted in a penalty shot for the slick Swede and a chance to single-handedly win the game.

To put it simply, Willy Nylander scored. But it wasn’t that simple.

Nylander walked over the blue line and into the Blackhawks zone before easing up to use a series of fakes, wait out Jeff Glass, and record a beautiful goal all-in-one. In doing so, he ties an NHL record for scoring the fastest goal in overtime—clocking in at a mere 0:06 seconds in.

It would hand Chicago their fourth-straight loss and help Toronto pick up their first win in the Windy City since 2003. Toronto will have a quick turnaround as they travel to Dallas overnight for a date with the Stars tomorrow, puck drop is set at 8:30 p.m. EST.

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca

On Twitter - @GordBrown_

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs