“Welcome to the 1980s!” Sportsnet play-by-play czar Chris Cuthbert said during a third period that should’ve forced TV viewers to adjust their antennae. Or duck outside and check their driveway for a DeLorean.
Because what in the name of Miroslav Frycer were they watching?
The final score was 10-7.
And, no, neither the Detroit Lions nor the Toronto Argonauts were playing.
Same goes for the four goalies involved, three of whom were pulled due to performance.
“Wild game, completely,” Mitch Marner said.
“I've never played in a game like that," Auston Matthews said. “I don’t really have words for that third.”
In a night terror disguised as reality, the Leafs saw that goose-down cushion flatten to 7-6, then 8-7, before they pulled Jack Campbell, burned their timeout, and beared down.
“Dumbfounded” is how coach Sheldon Keefe described his bench.
“Hockey’s a funny game,” Michael Bunting said. “It wasn’t that fun to be a part of because we were getting scored on, and then it was fun again. It was up and down emotions.”
Key rush goals from depth wingers Ilya Mikheyev and Ondrej Kase (shorthanded) righted the ship and stunted a crowd-charged comeback.
“Adversity comes in different forms,” Keefe said. “When push came to shove, our team rose up.”
So, the Leafs sigh relief and jet out of Motown on the happy side of the franchise’s highest-scoring game since the Leafs defeated the Edmonton Oilers 11-9 on Jan. 8, 1986.
Frycer — Petr Mrazek’s first agent — snapped four goals for Toronto that night. Wayne Gretzky ripped a hat trick and posted six points.
In Saturday’s throwback, it was Marner hitting the Wings with four goals and six points, while the hottest trio in hockey, Bunting–Matthews–Marner, combined for a ridiculous six goals and 15 points.
“That line was outstanding today,” Keefe praised.
Marner gets his trick
On 14 occasions in his six seasons, Marner has scored twice in a single game. But not until Saturday has he triggered the caps to rain.
Well, Marner did so in style Saturday, scoring a natural hat trick in a span of eight minutes and 46 seconds during a dominant second period.
“It was pretty cool. I won't lie,” Marner said.
Marner hit ’em with the four to cap off the night, thanks to a very Marner-esque setup by Bunting.
Can’t buy a save
All four goalies appeared in Saturday’s shootout, Detroit’s Alex Nedeljkovic twice.
Here are their save percentages: .800, .760, .750, .714.
Pretty, it was not.
Keefe started the suddenly shaky Campbell, in part, because he wanted to give him a game in his home state of Michigan.
But Campbell was so out of sorts to start the third period — allowing four goals in a five-minute span — that he was yanked with a lead.
Although the coach knew he was putting Mrazek in “a horrible spot,” throwing him in cold and late as the Wings stormed, he also couldn’t stand there and let Campbell’s confidence crumble. Or two points slip away.
The goaltending is a growing issue in Toronto.
One must believe Mrazek starts Monday in Washington, right?
Is Robertson being showcased?
“Time flies,” said Nick Robertson as he conducted his Detroit pre-game media availability inside the dressing room of the Little Caesars AAA club, his alma mater.
Robertson — also a former Toronto Red Wing in his minor hockey travels — found himself back in a familiar town facing some familiar colours.
“It’s kind of surreal. It kind of brings you back,” Robertson went on. “I was proud to wear these colours, and now I’m here playing for the Leafs.”
The 20-year-old was stuck in snowy traffic Friday, expecting a trip to Rochester with the AHL Marlies when he received a call from GM Kyle Dubas. The highly touted and often injured prospect was getting called up to the Show.
Pleased with his progression since returning from October’s broken leg but believing he needs more reps to reach his “absolute best,” Dubas’s call took the winger by surprise.
Unlike the 2020 playoff bubble and his six appearances in the Canadian Division, this time Robertson would be performing for fans.
"I'm just excited,” he said. “To be in a familiar area like Michigan, because I grew up here, it's nice to have some family friends come out for the game."
With Pierre Engvall sidelined due to illness, Robertson skated 9:19 on the fourth line, nearly scoring on a wraparound attempt, registering three shots with a minus-1 rating, and taking a boarding penalty.
An NHL-level left wing, Kyle Clifford, was already on the Leafs roster. So, was Robertson being rewarded for his determined play on the farm? Or is he being showcased a few weeks out from the trade deadline?
“Anything’s possible,” Robertson told The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke of the March 21 trade deadline. “I’ve got to prepare myself and showcase myself out there for any possibilities.”
“I’ve seen guys get traded out of nowhere, and they thought they were going to be somewhere forever. Like I said, I want to play as well as possible. And after the deadline, if I’m here, I’m here. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Keefe says the Leafs will take it a day at a time with Robertson: “We want to give him some more experience and an opportunity to grow.”
Bunting refuses to change his game
Bunting says he won’t alter his greasy, in-your-grill, crawl-under-your-skin style of play despite his recent $2,000 fine for embellishment.
He vows to continue to crash the crease, stare down opponents, and absorb their hacks and whacks.
“I’m willing to put the body on the line,” Bunting said. “If I get cross-checked and taken down, it's a power play for the team.
“That gritty style—I don’t shy away from that,” he went on. “It gets me into the game. It kinda wakes me up. So, I don’t mind it.”
Keefe shrugged off the ding for diving. Because the emotional Bunting is always in the thick of the action, officials are paying attention.
“The big thing with Bunts is that he’s an absolute competitor,” Keefe said. “Because he’s involved in everything, he’s usually the most hated guy on the ice.”
When Toronto visited Detroit last month, Bunting registered a hat trick. Matthews teased his winger, asking if he’d be eating the same pre-game meal. Bunting conceded he probably would. Chicken and pasta. Typical.
The food fueled Bunting’s five-point showing and a climb up the Calder Trophy power rankings.
He co-leads all rookies in goals (18) and now ranks second in points (40).
Hey! Detroit has a couple of Calder candidates, too
Some nice insight into the Red Wings’ stud freshmen by teammate Sam Gagner on Spittin’ Chiclets this week.
Gagner on Mortiz Seider: “He has great hockey IQ. He's one of those guys who isn't afraid of the moment — ever. If you saw a clip earlier in the year, after a whistle, he just takes the puck from [Victor] Hedman and is just toying with him. It's situations like that that he's just not scared of the moment, which is awesome. I imagine in playoff hockey he’s going to be an absolute beast.”
Gagner on Lucas Raymond, who enjoyed a three-point Saturday: “He controls the game like a Mitch Marner would. Everything kind of goes through him. The puck’s on his stick all the time. He makes a ton of great plays. He's got amazing hockey IQ. And he’s one of those guys who just keeps getting better as the year goes on. It's been awesome. Both those kids, they're great kids, too. They want to get better. So, it's been a lot of fun.”
One-Timers: Jake Muzzin (concussion) was spotted around the Maple Leafs practice facility Friday, which is a positive sign. If he’s healthy before season’s end, he’ll play…. John Tavares did not get a point Saturday, extending his goal drought to 12 games, his longest since 2011-12…. Justin Holl had himself a three-assist, plus-3 night, a fine response after consecutive healthy scratches…. Ilya Lyubushkin registered his first point as a Leaf.