“Not a great game for us, but it's a great win for us.”
Sheldon Keefe succinctly summed up a game that jumped from sluggish and sloppy to slick and successful.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were involved in yet another game that featured a blown 3-1 lead, but this time they were the beneficiaries, storming all the way back from 3-1 and 4-2 deficits with a torrential five-goal third period.
All those goals will be the focus of Toronto’s 7-4 road victory, but Keefe pointed to a tightening of some loose defensive work that allowed for a character comeback.
“Our best people made big-time plays in the third period,” said Keefe, reverting mid-game to a more loaded top six.
“But the most important thing was just to stop the bleeding defensively.”
Bunting reps the ’Borough lovely
In a match that lacked offence for the Leafs through 40 minutes, it was telling that two dirty goals from crease-driver Michael Bunting kept them close.
A deft tip of a Justin Holl shot in the high slot and spin-and-whack of puck mid-air gave Bunting two on the night. Bunting completed his first hat trick as a Leaf off a beautiful pass from Mitch Marner, setting a new career-high in goals (12) — with Hockey Day in Canada being hosted by Scarborough no less.
"It's funny. [Jason] Spezza was saying, 'You can't write that stuff up.' You know, I got a hat trick on Scarborough Night. So all the guys were kinda giving it to me and laughing. They were all really happy for me because of that. Me and Simmer [Wayne Simmonds] take great pride of being from Scarborough and representing that," Bunting said.
Even with the Leafs’ best players starting slow, Bunting was fired up, firing a team-high seven shots and scrumming it up with the Wings at the conclusion of the second period to stir up some emotion.
Travis Dermott chuckled when asked about his greasy teammate.
“I don't want to say ‘rat’ by any means, but he loves to get out there and get in guys’ faces and work hard,” Dermott said. “With his work ethic, I think it just gets on guys’ nerves a little bit, you know? He's never backing down from a battle no matter how big the guy is.”
Petr Mrazek said he often teases Bunting that he can never score in practice.
“Look at that,” Mrazek smiled. “He got three tonight.”
Sandin scores for first time in two years, two days
If you’re going to bust a two-year, 60-game goal drought, it might as well be a third-period, comeback-completing game-winner.
“Nobody likes to have a zero beside their name, no matter what position you play,” Keefe said.
Yes, defenceman Rasmus Sandin was quite aware he was the only Maple Leaf heading into the game with a doughnut in the goal column.
So when John Tavares outmuscled Nick Leddy for a loose puck in the slot, drew a crowd, then spotted a pinching Sandin cross-slot, the drought was quenched in style:
"That's John's goal, for sure. He made a terrific pass." —Rasmus Sandin https://t.co/swSS1dx7MQ
— luke fox (@lukefoxjukebox) January 30, 2022
“We just came with a different mindset in the third period,” said Sandin, who was greeted on the bench by some Auston Matthews good-boy head rubs. “I was very pumped up to get that goal.”
Tavares and Marner each tacked on an empty-net goal, making the scoreboard appear more lopsided than the run of play.
Marner’s empty-netter quietly packed a ton of meaning.
Not only was it his third power-play goal in four games, but it extended his goal streak to five games — a career-best.
Marner’s maternal grandmother passed away Friday night. He pointed to the sky after bending the twine.
Fourth-line woes to fourth-line whoa
With Keefe shortening his bench in a desperate final 20 minutes, the fourth line of Pierre Engvall, Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds didn’t see a ton of ice. But they were the most effective trio early.
Engvall got the Leafs on the board by driving the net, salvaging a soft first period, and that line outchanced the opposition 6-0.
“Pierre has been good for us for a while now,” Keefe said. “We thought his presence down on that line with Spezza and Simmer would give them another element that could help them, and I thought it did tonight.”
Keefe even rewarded that group with a rare offensive-zone draw coming out of a TV timeout during which he gathered the group for a rather spirited pep talk.
This positive performance came on the heels of Spezza promising his unit would rebound.
“I know that when we're at our best, the team needs us, and we can kinda control play against other fourth lines. So I think we're smart enough guys to know that we're not happy with where we're at in the last 10-game segment. But the good news is there's lots of hockey left to be played, and we know how to get back to it,” Spezza said Friday.
“We'll find our game. We'll get moving, and we'll make us a better club.”
Show Mickey the Money!!!
Amidst impending UFA Ilya Mikheyev’s run of clutch goals for the Maple Leafs last week, his agent, Dan Milstein, tweeted (then deleted) a photo of himself on the phone with the caption “Show Me the Money!!!”
Milstein explained his fondness for the Jerry McGuire catchphrase Friday on Real Kyper & Bourne.
“The ‘Show Me the Money!!!’ wasn't ‘Kyle Dubas, give me some cash!’ right? Because we haven't had any conversations about an extension, and we don't want to have it [now],” Milstein said. “Ilya is having a wonderful time playing good minutes on a very good, competitive team. ‘Show Me the Money!!!’ was more of, ‘Finally, Ilya is scoring, like, almost at a goal per game.’ It was an exciting moment.”
Why erase the tweet, then?
“I quickly realized the perception that people thought I was going to squeeze some extra cash — and that wasn't my intention at all. ‘Show me the money’ is something I say every single time, and it's not necessarily the contract. It's like, ‘You’re doing great. We're going places!’” Milstein said.
“You know what they say: When you drive a Mercedes, you're going somewhere. But when you drive a Ford, you already got there.”
Milstein is hopeful Dubas took his cheerleading in stride and maintains he has a great relationship with the GM. The two will touch base on the potential of an extension at season’s end, but our bet is Mikheyev will secure his Mercedes money elsewhere.
Mrazek still has time to find his game
With Jack Campbell seizing the No. 1 job in Toronto, the Maple Leafs have received some tire-kicking calls on veteran backup Mrazek, per Jeff Marek’s report Saturday.
Conversations on Toronto’s long-term goaltending plan will be placed on the backburner until summertime, so Mrazek will have time to find his groove. (He’s scheduled to start again Tuesday in New Jersey.)
Yes, the former Red Wing buckled down in the third, but his 4-2 record in Toronto is kind.
In five of Mrazek’s six starts as a Leaf, he has recorded a sub-.900 save percentage. For a $3.8 million cap hit through 2024, everyone knows he has more to give.
“We got the win, that's most important,” Mrazek said. “But obviously I want to work on those little mistakes that cause some goals.”
A cooled-off Campbell, who has an .864 save percentage over his past five starts, will get the nod Monday at home against the Devils before heading off to the All-Star game later next week.
Tweet of the Night
Well done, Dougie.
— Doug Gilmour (@douggilmour) January 30, 2022