Before Green met the media, defenceman Chris Tanev emerged, his lip bloody and swollen and his mouth missing teeth after taking a shot to the face in the first period. His absence left Green with a depleted blue line but for a long stretch Saturday it looked like the Canucks were headed for the win in the opener of a seven-game road trip.
“One of the best games we’ve played in a while,” said Green. “That’s a good hockey team over there and I thought we did a good job limiting their chances. That was just a really good hockey game.”
Leafs coach Mike Babock was also complimentary to Green and the Canucks, saying they were probably the better team for the first 30 minutes.
“I thought they worked real hard. I thought they skated real good,” he said.
“Our power play wasn’t good (0-for-4 including a man-advantage in overtime) … but we found a way to win a game down 2-0. So It’s a real big win, a real big two points for us, but I think you’ve got to give them credit. I thought they did a good job, I thought their coach did a real good job with his bench too, I really did. I thought he knew what was going on, he was dialed in.”
It was a showcase of two of the game’s best young talents in Canucks rookie sensation Brock Boeser and sophomore Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews and they didn’t disappoint.
Boeser helped the Canucks to a 2-0 lead and came close to finishing it in overtime on a rocket that hit one post and then another without going into the goal. But he also took a penalty in overtime and was stopped in the shootout.
Matthews started the Leaf comeback with a goal in the third and scored in the shootout.
Tyler Bozak also scored for Toronto (25-16-2) in regulation and in the shootout. Sam Gagner, who had the other regulation goal for the Canucks, scored the lone shootout goal for Vancouver (16-19-6) with Frederik Andersen denying Thomas Vanek to seal the win.
The Leafs also posted a 3-2 shootout win over San Jose on Thursday with Bozak scoring the key goal.
“It’s fun to go in those, especially when you have a chance to win it for the guys,” Bozak said of shootouts.
Toronto finally beat Jacob Markstrom at 8:23 of the third when Matthews tipped in a fine pass from Zach Hyman for his 19th of the season. And Bozak tied it up at 12:37, knocking in his own rebound after a long stretch pass from Morgan Rielly sent him in alone.
Defenceman Travis Dermott, in his NHL debut, also picked up an assist on the tying goal before an Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,301 that braved frigid conditions (-18 C, -27 with the wind chill) outside.
The Canucks outshot Toronto 34-31 in regulation time. The teams were tied at 36-36 after OT.
Tanev, who had just returned to action from a groin injury, left the game in the first period after taking a deflected shot to the face on his fourth shift that left a pool of blood and several teeth on the ice.
Defensive partner Michael Del Zotto retrieved the teeth. Green said Tanev still had to be checked for fractures but would remain with the team on the road trip.
The Canucks had last won at the ACC on Dec. 17, 2011, and came into the game 1-4-0 in their past five visits to Toronto.
Vancouver have now lost three straight (0-2-1) as well as seven of its last eight (1-5-2) and 10 of its last 13 (2-9-2).
Vancouver had been idle since a 5-0 loss to Anaheim on Tuesday that saw Anders Nilsson pulled in the third period. Markstrom started Saturday and, barring a bizarre goal that was negated by a coach’s challenge, was sharp.
The Leafs had some excellent early scoring chances but were unable to convert.
Canucks defenceman Erik Gudbranson fell heavily into the boards on an icing call early in the second period. But he kept playing as Vancouver outshot Toronto 9-2 to open the period.
Boeser put the visitors ahead at 2:59, beating Andersen stick-side with a rocket-like snap shot off a Vanek feed for his 22nd goal. Boeser had kept the attack alive, knocking down a Connor Carrick clearing attempt with his stick for his ninth point (five goals, four assists) in seven games.
“He shoots it quick,” said a pithy Andersen.
The Leafs seemed to have tied it up at 8:26 on essentially an own goal by Markstrom, who fumbled a Rielly lob-knuckleball of a shot into the net when it fell out of his glove. But Vancouver successfully challenged the play was offside, with replays showing the puck bounced off Rielly’s skate across the blue line with a Leaf player in the zone.
Gagner made it 2-0 at 6:34 of the third, taking advantage of 1:22 of a 5-on-3 advantage when Matt Martin and Roman Polak received minors. Gagner beat Andersen with a screen shot from the face-off circle with 17 seconds remaining on the first penalty.
The goal snapped an 0 for 15 power-play drought for the Canucks.
Saturday’s game was the first of a lengthy road trip that will also take the Canucks to Montreal, Washington, Columbus, Minnesota, Edmonton and Winnipeg.
Toronto, in the middle of a six-game homestand, hosts Columbus on Monday.