TORONTO — Mired in a ugly 2-for-32 stretch on the power play — including five fruitless opportunities Thursday — the Maple Leafs took a deep breath down 1-0 in third period.
Toronto’s top unit decided during a break in action it was time to throw away the chalkboard and rely on their instincts.
That meeting of the minds paid off.
“We pretty much said, ‘What do we have to lose? Let’s move around, let’s get the penalty kill thinking more,”‘ Matthews said of his team’s power play. “We did a really good job of that, different guys going to different areas and just reacting.
“We came together as a five-man group, outlined a couple things and just went from there.”
“By far our best player,” Matthews said of his goalie. “He just kept us in it.”
Max Pacioretty replied for Vegas (9-5-3), which got 35 saves from Malcolm Subban in the Toronto native’s first NHL start in his hometown.
“It would have been nice to get the win,” said Subban, the younger brother of New Jersey Devils defenceman P.K. Subban. “But it was great to finally play here.”
Suiting up for his second game back after missing seven with a broken finger, Tavares beat Subban in the extra period after taking a feed from Mitch Marner on a 2-on-1 for his fourth goal of the season.
“I’m just trying to get available and make the (passing) lane as easy as I can,” Tavares said. “Just tried to reward a good play.”
Matthews scored on the power play at 8:14 of the third after wheeling off the boards and ripping his 13th over Subban’s shoulder, off the crossbar and in as the Leafs finally connected against the NHL’s No. 2 penalty kill.
“At times I think our execution wasn’t great,” Tavares said of Toronto’s play up a man. “But I think we also had a lot of looks on net, we put a lot of pucks there and sometimes it’s just getting those second and third opportunities.
“You get (Matthews) inside the dots and there is no better shooter.”
Pacioretty, who entered with 19 goals in 40 career games against the Leafs from his 10 seasons with Montreal, broke a 0-0 tie at 4:08 of the third on a gift from defenceman Cody Ceci.
Nick Holden’s point shot rattled around the slot and fell to Ceci, who tried to clear the puck, but instead swept it right to Pacioretty for his fourth.
“They’re a real good team,” said Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, who became the eighth coach in NHL history to win 700 regular-season games. “I thought we were better in the first, I thought they were better in the second.
“And I didn’t think there was much to pick between the teams in the third.”
Toronto was whistled for too many men on the ice with 1:21 left in regulation, but the Leafs held at 5-on-4 thanks to two late saves from Andersen on Jonathan Marchessault, and then for another 39 seconds at 4-on-3 in OT — including that terrific stop on Karlsson.
“Felt like the puck was following me a little bit,” Andersen said. “There’s different nights where the puck seems to bounce your way.”
Pacioretty hit both posts on a Vegas power play early in the second before Andersen robbed Shea Theodore with a great glove save on the same man advantage.
William Carrier then stepped around Ceci later in the period only to be denied by the Leafs’ netminder, whose team went nearly 15 minutes between shots on goal from the end of the first into the second.
Vegas came close to grabbing an early lead on the game’s first shift when Reilly Smith’s shot of the rush rattled the crossbar over Andersen’s right shoulder.
Toronto’s power play got two chances in the opening period, but Subban and the Knights held firm despite some sustained pressure.
The Leafs came in having given up at least one man-advantage goal against in 11 of 16 games this season, and in eight of their last nine, but managed to stave off a late Vegas opportunity.
“We had some real good power plays, but didn’t score,” Babcock said. “We had a couple that were hard to watch.
“In the end, we were fortunate to win the special teams battle.”
Notes: Marchessault played the 300th regular-season game of his NHL career. … Toronto hosts Philadelphia on Saturday before visiting Chicago on Sunday. … Vegas is at Washington on Saturday and Detroit on Sunday. … Attendance was 19,218.