If you could, you’d bottle it.
You’d have scientists extract the formula and you’d reproduce this exact recipe of hockey every night the puck drops.
NHLers so often trot out “the full 60” objective that it doesn’t just feel cliché. That lofty achievement feels almost mythical, unattainable in a game composed of a zillion tiny mistakes on a slippery surface.
That a full 60 was executed without its No. 1 goaltender in the pipes or the league’s No. 1 sniper in uniform made Toronto’s NHL-best 16th victory all the more impressive.
“Everything really came up Leafs here tonight,” Sheldon Keefe said.
The coach began running down the checklist:
• The Leafs’ slumping power play ended its 0-for-12 stretch as William Nylander sniped through Joe Thornton’s stirred net-front havoc in the game’s lone 5-on-4 opportunity.
• Toronto did not commit a single penalty, marking the first time all season the deadly Oilers failed to draw a power play.
• Connor McDavid was limited to one shot on goal and finished the evening a dash-3, his worst stat line in more than five years. And he wore that frustration on his face.
• The Leafs scored in each period and produced even-strength goals from three different lines.
• After being sidelined for a month with a leg injury, Jack Campbell pitched his first shutout as a Maple Leaf — a 30-save gem — and improved his record to a pristine 3-0-0.
• Justin Holl instantly stuck up for Campbell when the goaltender’s head was clipped by a net-charging Tyler Ennis.
• And captain John Tavares thrived on the top unit in Auston Matthews’ absence, drawing the penalty, contributing two assists (his first multi-point effort in more than two weeks) and winning 72 per cent of his faceoffs. A seamless promotion to the Mitch Marner and Thornton line.
“John has not gotten enough credit for how he’s defended through this season,” Keefe said. “You ask a lot more of him here tonight, taking on tougher matchups, even more matchups, against their best players, and I thought he was outstanding. He was above the puck all night long. I don’t know how many shots he ended up with (a team-high five), but he had his own opportunities to score.”
McDavid, too, had a couple chances early — a wicked backhander off the rush blocked by Campbell, and a cut to the slot denied by T.J. Brodie’s deft stickwork — but once Toronto seized the lead, the visitors’ defensive structure took hold.
Sometime between Jason Spezza fooling Mike Smith with his patented fake-the-clapper, unleash-the-wrister snipe and Zach Hyman firing a beauty in tight, Leon Draisaitl could be seen smashing a Gatorade bottle in disgust.
Dave Tippett chucked his forwards into the Vitamix, but the consistency was off.
Edmonton entered this three-game set the hotter team with the hotter goalie.
Sweep the Leafs, and they’d seize first place. Now, the Oilers must regroup and figure out how to beat a Toronto team that has twice come out on top when Matthews takes time to rest his injured wrist.
“Even without Auston, they’re a very good team,” Tippett said. “They don’t get to be on top of the standings without being a good team.”
Campbell said Matthews was “fired up in room” when he greeted the boys in his civvies post-game and can’t wait to get back in. Maybe as soon as Monday.
“You lose a guy like that, you’re essentially taking a goal away from your lineup,” said Keefe, commending the defensive commitment. “If you’re going to score one less, you’ve got to make sure you give up one less. I think the players recognize that.
“For the most part, we had four lines, six defencemen and, certainly, the goaltender that were really on the same page here tonight.”
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 28, 2021
The fellas stepped up for Campbell, and Campbell held the fort for them.
“Man, we just played great. Every single guy on this team played amazing tonight,” said Campbell, his forever smile growing like the Leafs’ standings cushion.
“That was a full 60 minutes.”