‘Lots of hockey’: Could all this overtime catch up with Maple Leafs?

Auston Matthews tied the game in dying seconds, but Brad Marchand's late OT goal along with David Pastrnak's three points helped the Boston Bruins defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3.

TORONTO — Death, taxes, and the Toronto Maple Leafs playing overtime.

Yes, this hockey club has taken its fans on a fourth-period thrill ride so often this season, one wonders if they’re getting paid time and a half for all this extra work.

Thanks to Auston Matthews pounding home one of those classic goalie-pulled, game-tying strikes in the final six seconds Saturday against the division-leading Boston Bruins, the Leafs once again prolonged the fun and piled on the stress.

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And although evil villain supreme Brad Marchand froze the clock and stole the bonus point in the extra frame, beating a busy Joseph Woll on Boston’s 11th(!) shot of OT, the Leafs still salvaged another standings point, taking the scenic route.

“We played way better tonight than we have in a while,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said, following the 4-3 loss. “Hard-played hockey game. Not a lot between the two teams.

“Referees let the teams play. Not your typical early-December hockey game. It’s a tough game out there. Fast. Competitive. Our guys fought their way back and got us another point.”

Get one. Then play some 3-on-3 (and often a shootout) and hope for one more.

That seems to be the Maple Leafs’ way these days, as a whopping 11 of their 22 games have extended beyond regulation.

Toronto, which leads the NHL in both overtime appearances and shootout wins (four), has now battled through a league-high seven consecutive one-goal games.

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The good news: The Leafs are 7-4 beyond the 60th minute, slowly stacking points and staying in the thick of the Atlantic race as they ride through their blueline injuries and manage some structural hiccups and individual mini slumps.

More good news: Getting accustomed to battling through tight scores and rallying late is a character-building exercise that could come in handy when the results matter most.

“I thought our team was unbelievable,” said Woll, not too shabby himself in a 36-save showing. “We looked really good against one of the top teams in the league. Pretty awesome to see us fight back and get the point there.”

The bad news: Only one team in the league has fewer regulation wins than Toronto’s five (rebuilding Montreal has four), and at last check, the playoffs still don’t offer 3-on-3 skill shows or breakaway contests.

More bad news: Unlike Saturday, Toronto has blown leads and often allowed its opponent to push them into OT.

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“The points we’re accumulating, they’re not nothing. Those are important,” Keefe said earlier this week, hyperaware of the can’t-get-it-done-in-60 narrative. 

“We know we need to get better, and we will get better.”

They got better seemingly overnight, rising to the challenge of a legit Boston team that also elevated its intensity and execution for rivalry night. 

“This was the best game we’ve played in a while, maybe two weeks,” Bruins bench boss Jim Montgomery said. “Sometimes you need to face some hard times to realize it’s not always gonna come easy.”

If there was any game where both sides deserved two points, Keefe declared, this was it.

(Don’t give Gary Bettman any ideas, Coach. Commissioner Parity is already in love with the three-point game. The four-point game might send him over the moon.)

What we don’t know — but should be of some concern — is the toll all these extra minutes of hockey, particularly on Toronto’s heavily taxed stars and top defencemen, will take on the core down the road.

The Leafs have played 44:34 in overtimes already this season, those minutes logged exclusively by their top-end talent. 

Mercifully, the schedule-makers have granted the breathless Leafs four days off, a valued break for rest, before they face the Senators in Ottawa Thursday.

“It comes at a good time. It’s been a busy week,” Keefe said. “Lots of hockey.”

Literally, the most hockey.

Fox’s Fast Five

• Matthews had scored only once in his past nine games heading into Saturday.

But was he doing the proper things to generate quality scoring chances?

“No. He’s got to do better in that area,” Keefe told reporters Saturday morning. A rare bit of criticism pointed at the onetime Hart champ. “Don’t focus on the end result and get concerned with anything other than doing the things that allow you to have success individually — and for us as a team, most importantly. 

“Auston’s a driver for our team. Overall team game and structure and the consistency with which we execute, we need Auston to drive in those areas. If that happens, whether he scores or not, we’re going to be in a really good place to control play and win the game.”

Matthews responded with seven shots and two goals, including the game-tying 6-on-5 strike with just 5.7 ticks remaining in regulation.

The Leafs outshot the Bruins 22-6 when Matthews was on the ice.

Postgame, Keefe accurately described his No. 1 centre as “a beast.”

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• Here’s Marchand on the (accidental?) corkscrew play one month ago today that placed Timothy Liljegren on LTIR with a high-ankle sprain and caused a storm in Toronto for the Leafs’ lack of retaliation:

“There wasn’t a response because it wasn’t a bad play. It’s just one of those things that happens fast in a game, and you get tied up and try to battle for positioning on a puck, and things happen… Their coach is being emotional and trying to get them to be there for one another and compete, and that’s what good teams do, and they do that.” 

Marchand skated untouched by the Leafs bench immediately after the collision. 

“Clearly, no one thought it was a big deal,” he said. “They made it out as something. Unfortunately, when you allow that stuff to leak into the media outside of the room, it creates more drama than is necessary, and that’s what happened in that situation.”

• Ryan Reaves on Marchand: “He likes telling me he makes a lot more than I do. It doesn’t really bother me. A lot of players make a lot more than I do, so it’s not really a good one.”

Marchand on Reaves: “I said that once a long time ago. Sounds like he’s holding onto it.”

• Trouble in Tampa? 

Thanks to Saturday’s 8-1 shellacking by the Dallas Stars, the Lightning have lost four straight, getting outscored 19-5 over that span.

Andrei Vasilevskiy’s save percentage since returning from back surgery: .859.

• Pastrnak was phenomenal Saturday: an over-the-shoulder snipe; two assists, including cueing up the OT winner; 10 shots and 15 attempts.

“I loved 88 tonight,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said.

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