Takeaways: Maple Leafs’ Matthews a final-minute hero against Red Wings

Auston Matthews scored with just 30 seconds left in regulation to power the Maple Leafs to a 3-2 win over the Red Wings in Detroit.

It took 59-and-a-half minutes to pop up, but Auston Matthews’ flair for the dramatic once again came to the fore with the game on the line in Detroit.

So referees can whistle plays dead when they shouldn’t and Leo Komarov can whiff on empty-net scoring chances all he wants, because when you have the ability to roll out game-breakers like this, they’ll render past mistakes moot.

Here are eight takeaways from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ buzzer-beating 3-2 victory over the Red Wings Sunday.

Sweet redemption for clutch Matthews

Twice Matthews missed wide on open dekes Saturday night in Pittsburgh. Following that loss, coach Mike Babcock spoke about the meaninglessness of high-danger chances when they’re left unfinished.

Well, the Maple Leafs superstar made no mistake on the great look he was giving in the final minute of a tied game in Detroit. As a result of linemates William Nylander and Zach Hyman’s hard battling off a critical offensive-zone draw, Matthews had the game on his stick, plenty of net to shoot at and made no mistake, scoring his fourth game-winner with a mere 30.2 ticks remaining on the clock.

“Me and Willy look at each other like, finally,” Matthews told reporters. “We had a lot of chances last game, over the last couple games.

“It’s nice to kind of finish it off there with a minute left and be able to win the game.”

Mantha’s strike saves Abdelkader embarrassment

Justin Abdelkader had a golden chance with his back to an empty net and the puck sitting between his legs on the Red Wings’ only power play of the night. The forward tried to swat it backhanded into the gaping cage but somehow smacked it wide, cursing his way to the bench.

Thankfully, Anthony Mantha made a beautiful shoulder-high tip on a Gustav Nyquist shot on that same man-advantage to open the scoring.

Leafs only need 18 seconds to stir magic

Think trade deadline pressure is getting to James van Riemsdyk? The big winger registered his fourth goal and fifth point in the past six games when he drove to the net and a Jake Gardiner point shot pinged off his midsection and past Petr Mrazek to tie the game at one.

A mere 18 seconds later, Mitch Marner exhibited great patience on a feed from Nazem Kadri, pulling Mrazek out of his net before whistling a wrister just under his blocker, giving the Leafs a 2-1 advantage. (Marner later admitted he was waiting to pass cross-crease to Patrick Marleau, because of course he was.)

Count that four goals and nine points for the sophomore in his past five games. Marner ranks second in team scoring (46 points) and seventh in average ice time among Leafs forwards.

Hungry Connor Carrick gets another taste of action

Connor Carrick, 23, is in the midst of a frustrating contract season, as he’s struggled to convince coach Babcock that he is the superior third-pair option to the more experienced and rugged Roman Polak. After three consecutive healthy scratches, Carrick returned to the lineup beside Travis Dermott Sunday.

We recently asked a diplomatic Dermott to compare skating with Carrick and Polak.

“They make it easy for me. They help me out a lot and give me confidence to do what I do. If I back down from what I usually do, then I’ll end up having a bad game,” Dermott said.

“What Polie brings to the table is opening up more space, taking the body and helping us get out of our D zone quickly. Connor can maybe jump in more offensively, but he’s still sound defensively. I enjoy playing with both.”

Carrick didn’t back down from mixing it up with the nasty Abdelkader, and posted a nice 57.7 per cent Corsi in 5-on-5 play. He and Dermott were Toronto’s most dominant pair in terms of possession, but they were also on the ice when an untouched Henrik Zetterberg tied the game on the doorstep halfway through the third frame.

It’ll be interesting to see if Babcock goes back to Polak Tuesday, when Toronto hosts Florida.

Detroit held a moment of silence for Parkland

Red Wings showcasing trade bait Mrazek, Glendening

Sunday’s starter, Mrazek (RFA), has been available for trade for months, but with his contract nearing expiry and Detroit thinking lottery, he’s getting pushed heavy.

The Detroit Free Press reported this weekend that Mrazek was offered to Philadelphia, after the Flyers lost Brian Elliott to injury, for the price of a third-round pick. Ron Hextall declined, but that was before Philly’s backup, Michal Neuvirth, left Sunday’s victory over the Rangers with a lower-body ailment.

The Flyers are in a playoff spot and could get desperate. Mrazek posted a .912 save percentage in the last-minute loss.

Toronto reportedly has trade interest in Detroit’s fourth-line centre, Luke Glendening, a Babcock favourite during his Wings tenure. Glendening had the worst possession metrics (20 per cent Corsi) of any forward in the game.

The Wings’ most coveted trade chip, right-shot defenceman Mike Green, sat out his second straight game with an upper-body injury and remains day-to-day.

Refs robbed Leafs of scoring chance

Hyman was the first player to fire a puck into the net, when he blasted home a Matthews rebound — but his Grade-A scoring opportunity was eradicated due to a quick and mistakenly blown whistle.

Matthews’ initial shot had struck Red Wings goaltender Mrazek in the mask and dislodged a strap. Mrazek quickly shook his mask off, trying to trigger a whistle, and got one — ensuring the first period would remain scoreless.

By the letter of the law, however, play should not have been stopped because the red Wings never had possession. Further, Mrazek could’ve been dealt a two-minute delay-of-game penalty:

NHL Rule 9.6 – Uniforms / Helmets – When a goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask and his team has control of the puck, the play shall be stopped immediately to allow the goalkeeper the opportunity to regain his helmet and/or face mask. When the opposing team has control of the puck, play shall only be stopped if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity. This stoppage of play must be made by the Referee.

When a goalkeeper deliberately removes his helmet and/or face mask in order to secure a stoppage of play, the Referee shall stop play as outlined above and in this case assess the goalkeeper a minor penalty for delaying the game.

Mac gives Leafs life in back-to-backs, Jack

“We have all the confidence in the world in Mac,” defenceman Morgan Rielly told reporters.

That confidence was well-placed, as Toronto’s seldom-used but seldom-shaky backup goalie, Curtis McElhinney, made 27 saves and improved the Leafs’ record in the sleepy half of back-to-backs to 6-4-1.

With Frederik Andersen — hockey’s busiest goalie, on track for 70-some starts — McElhinney has never played more than thrice a month, yet he’s posted a .932 save percentage and gets the job done.

“He’s just a good man that helps Freddy, doesn’t get in the way of what Freddy’s trying to do,” Babcock said. “And when it’s his turn, he’s ready to go. I can’t say enough about that.”

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