TORONTO — Nazem Kadri was an assist short of a bizarre Gordie Howe hat trick Thursday night in a 3-2 Leafs shootout win over the San Jose Sharks that saw the Toronto centre rip out part of Joe Thornton‘s mountain-man beard in a fight.
Kadri also scored in regulation time, ending a 12-game scoring slump dating back to Nov. 30.
It was a frigid -26 C with the wind chill outside but it was hot from the get-go inside the Air Canada Centre with Thornton and Kadri dropping the gloves just two seconds after being tossed out of the opening faceoff for slashing each other like manic lumberjacks.
The 38-year-old Thornton’s beard took a beating in the scrap, thanks to Kadri hanging on to his beard rather than his jersey as he was twirled around by the bigger Shark. A hunk of Thornton’s facial hair was left on the ice like a mini-tumbleweed.
"I ended up with a piece of it in my hand," Kadri said of the beard. "I have no idea how that happened
"I thought I was a hockey player not a barber," he added with a chuckle. "I didn’t mean to grab him there. I mean he’s a big boy. I couldn’t reach all the way across his shoulder. I felt like I just grabbed him in the middle of his jersey and just came down with a handful of his hair."
Thornton didn’t speak after the game.
The hair ultimately found its way to the glove of backup goalie Aaron Dell on the San Jose bench.
"We were trying to figure out what it was," Sharks forward Chris Tierney said.
It was likely also a first for the 19,132 in attendance.
Kadri, who was giving up at least four inches and 30 pounds to Thornton, had a welt on the side of his face as a souvenir of the fight.
"I didn’t see that coming," said former Shark Patrick Marleau.
The fight seemed to spark the Leafs, who snapped a three game losing streak. They had plenty of jump against the talented Sharks in a wide-open, entertaining game that saw plenty of big saves at both ends.
"It was a good fight … It kind of gets everybody pumped up, especially to see a smaller guy like that (fight)," said Leafs centre Auston Matthews.
Matthews and Tyler Bozak scored for the Leafs in the six-round shootout. Kevin Labanc was the lone successful Shark thanks to goalie Frederik Andersen, with Tierney hitting the goalpost in the Sharks’ final attempt after Bozak scored.
Marleau also hit the post in his shootout attempt.
Toronto had to kill off a Mitch Marner high-sticking call with 1:50 left in OT.
Matthews and Kadri scored in regulation for Toronto (24-16-2), which had lost its last three games. Brenden Dillon and Tierney replied for San Jose (21-12-5), which outshot Toronto 35-28.
Toronto had lost 10 straight (0-8-2) to the Sharks — since a 4-2 victory on Jan. 11, 2011 — and had won just one of the last 15 games (1-14-0) against them.
The Leafs led 1-0 and 2-1. But San Jose tied it up late in the second period via a gift after Andersen misplayed a puck that came into the Toronto end off a centre-ice faceoff. Instead of sending the puck to safety, Andersen’s clearing attempt trickled in front and Tierney swept it in.
The Leaf goalie redeemed himself with a fine save on Joe Pavelski in the third period off a Thornton setup on a 2-on-1.
"I thought we did lots of really good things," said Toronto coach Mike Babcock. "In saying all of that, we’re still a young team and learning how to win. The game’s on the line and we do some things to generate offence for the other team instead of just continuing to play right.
"We’ve got a long way to go," he added. "And yet it was a big win for us."
Neither team’s power play was clicking. San Jose was 0 for 5 while Toronto was 1 for 4.
Sharks starter Martin Jones came into the game 7-0-0 against the Leafs with a .947 save percentage.
Andersen, who is making US$5 million this season, started the game $2,000 lighter after being fined by the league for diving/embellishment in the second period of the Dec. 31 game against the Vegas Golden Knights. Andersen had been issued a warning after a Nov. 24 game against Carolina.
The Sharks, coming off a 4-1 win Tuesday in Montreal, face Ottawa on Friday before wrapping up a five-game road trip in Winnipeg on Sunday. San Jose is three games into an rough 11-game run that features nine games on the road thanks to the U.S. figure skating championships back at the SAP Center.
Toronto hosts Vancouver on Saturday as its six-game homestand continues.