Mitch Marner’s record-busting celebration muted by Maple Leafs’ overtime woes

Mitch Marner set the new all-time Maple Leafs point streak record with two goals, but it wasn't enough as Alex Killorn scored the overtime winner and the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in the extra frame.

TAMPA – They came to celebrate history already made and got to see some more created.

On the eve Steven Stamkos was feted with a wedding table’s worth of wine and hockey sticks of gold for achieving what no other Tampa Bay Lightning had ever done (score 1,000 points), another Toronto-bred superstar carved his own space in a franchise record book.

Fitting how it unfolded, too.

Pressing on the kill during a penalty-filled affair against last spring’s playoff spoilers, Maple Leafs resident magician Mitchell Marner spotted a chance to cause havoc 4-on-5.

A turnover deep in the Tampa end led to a pair of shorthanded chances, and, taking a pretty feed by David Kämpf in the slot, Marner sniped a puck past Andrei Vasilevskiy, extending his point streak to a place no other Leaf has gone: 19 games.

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“You could almost see him computing it in his mind before it happened, where he sensed that maybe their guy was in a little bit of trouble,” coach Sheldon Keefe said.

“He felt he could put a little pressure there and create a turnover — and that’s exactly what happened. For him to get rewarded and secure the record, it was very good to see. He was excellent again tonight.”

Indeed.

In addition to the opener, Marner added a power-play goal in the third period to force overtime and salvage a point in Toronto’s 4-3 extra-frame loss.

“I grew up in this city. I love being a part of this team nowadays. It’s special to me. It’s special growing up to watch this team play hockey and now to have my name in something — pretty amazing,” Marner said. “A lot of love to my guys for helping me achieve this accomplishment.”

Defence begetting offence is a persistent theme of Marner’s remarkable run and this Maple Leafs campaign, in which they’ve gathered standings points in 11 straight games, often in tight, one-goal contests.

“He’s all over pucks offensively, defensively. Just the back pressure, picking guys’ pockets, and turning and going the other way — I think that’s a pretty big thing you notice, especially when he’s really rolling. Right now, he’s really rolling,” Auston Matthews says. “He’s just been playing awesome.”

“Happy for him,” adds Matt Murray. “Just his hockey sense – that’s what makes him such a threat all over the ice. He’s always in the right spots and jumps at the right times.”

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Keefe doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence that Marner was the one in the penalty box when Tampa’s deadly power play finally broke through in the third period. The PK simply isn’t as effective without him.

A grand total of 15(!) minor penalties were whistled Saturday — “A lot of ticky-tack stuff, right?” Keefe said — jostling the momentum of an otherwise excellent rematch between two sides stuffed with game-breakers and record-breakers.

“It was a weird night that way. It was hard to find any rhythm and flow,” John Tavares said. “We can’t just put it on the officials, but certainly in a competitive game like this, two good teams, there’s some tight [calls] there. That’s the way it goes. We just have to do a better job of being on the right side of that line.”

The Maple Leafs must also do a better job being on the right side of overtime.

They’ve now dropped six straight in the fourth period.

“It’s important because it affects the standings, right? We have been talking about it, working on it. This is not one we’re going to overthink. We can give them the puck back, and we need a save there. Matt knows that. He played a great game, so we’ll let that one slide,” Keefe said.

“He hasn’t let one in like that all season. That’s a tough one to end the night for him.”

The celebrating, the controversy, the animosity, the frozen-clock finish, the elite skill on display at both ends… perhaps a segment of Maple Leafs fans fear a (likely) springtime rematch of Toronto-Tampa. But, boy, would it make for great theatre. And better sport.

“There’s a dynamic group up there between Mitch and Auston and Willie. And you can’t sleep on Tavares. What a year he’s having,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

“Fabulous players. I’m glad they’re in our division, because you get to watch them a little bit more than normal. Not the most fun to play against. I love when you get matchups like this, because you have some of the best players of our generation here, and you get to watch them all on one sheet of ice. Plus, add in the playoff rivalry, and these are great games to be a part of.”

Or, as Tavares puts it: “Just two good hockey teams goin’ at it.”

Fox’s Fast 5

• Stamkos has no issue recalling his franchise-record 18-game point streak, set way back in 2009-10.

“Oh, yeah. I remember it like it was yesterday because my sticks got stolen after the game at the Toronto airport by Toronto security — and then I didn’t get a point the next game. So, I remember that pretty, pretty clear,” he says, with a smile.

Teammate Martin St. Louis’ sticks were also snatched in transit.

“I’m not sure that happens anymore, but it certainly happened in the past… especially at the (city airports) where they love hockey,” Stamkos laughed pre-game. “[Mitch Marner] better make sure his sticks are in his stall tonight.”

Leafs veterans Mark Giordano and Wayne Simmonds hadn’t heard the story.

“I’ve never been anywhere close to an 18-game point streak, so I wouldn’t have to worry about having my sticks stolen like that,” Simmonds said.

“It’s pretty funny. I could see somebody doing that in Toronto.”

• Perfect Leafs statistic heading into Saturday’s showdown, dug up by SN Stats.

Marner, Matthews, Tavares, and Nylander have combined for 49 per cent of all team points this season.

They take up 49 per cent of the team’s salary cap.

• Anthony Cirelli registered two primary assists and a plus-2 rating skating just 12:45 in his long-awaited season debut, following off-season shoulder surgery.

“When work ethic is your No. 1 asset, regardless of not playing in a while, that’s something you carry with you,” Cooper said. “He is energy. Tenacious.

“His body needed the rest. So, hopefully we get three more post-seasons like the one he delivered for us the last couple of years.” 

• Healthy scratch Denis Malgin can’t catch a break these days…

• The Maple Leafs are no longer wearing their commemorative Börje Salming shoulder patch. More than $250,000 has been raised for ALS Action Canada by the club through sales of the patch and the auction of sweaters worn in their first home game since the defenceman’s passing.

We’re told the decision is due to precedent. The Leafs only wore their George Armstrong patch for a couple of games after his death in 2021 as well.

Personally, I would’ve loved to see them wear the Salming badge for the remainder of the season. Great tribute to the King by Swedish Marlies goalie Erik Källgren, who had a new mask designed in Salming’s honour.

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