Coming off a 5-0 drubbing of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Leafs still had no room for error in the playoff race as they took on the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.
Wearing the throwback St. Pat’s uniforms in honor of St. Patrick’s day, the Leafs came out flying in the first, with Morgan Rielly in particular looking dangerous on his first couple of shifts, with one chance getting deflected just wide of Hawks netminder Corey Crawford. Mitch Marner also had a partial breakaway chance on Crawford but got in too tight to crease while trying to settle the puck and was unable to score. The Leafs team defense looked very solid in the early going, limiting the Hawks to a lot of shots from the outside, and as is usually the case, good defense led to good offense as Auston Matthews was able to score on a give and go with William Nylander as he cut through the middle of the ice. The goal was Matthews’ 32nd of the year and it would give the Leafs a 1-0 lead that they would carry into the first intermission.
If the Leafs started the first period flying, the Blackhawks started the second period on a rocket ship, with Freddie Andersen having to make a great pad save, then another with the glove fell between his legs and was thankfully swept away by Nikita Zaitsev before the Hawks could put it into the net. The Hawks would dominate the play for most of the period, despite a great scoring chance for William Nylander who was streaking down the wing, but was robbed by Corey Crawford. Shortly thereafter, Chicago would generate a two on one, and Jonathan Toews would find John Hayden for his first career NHL goal knotting the game at one a piece. It would remain that way through two periods as Crawford would rob Auston Matthews with the knob of his stick late in the frame to preserve the tie.
I really don’t know what to say about this except to say that it was pretty much all Blackhawks, all the time. Crawford did have to make a great save on Auston Matthews early in the period, but after that, Chicago pretty much hemmed the Leafs in their own end for the entire period. It was kind of like the Blackhawks were holding the Leafs’ heads underwater, and every once in awhile they’d clear the zone long enough to pop their heads up and get a couple of breaths before getting submerged again. There was one sequence where I’m not sure how the puck stayed out, Tomas Jurco had a chance that bounced around and could have gone in 4 or 5 times, the puck bounced around as if on an invisible string. It even bounced off a Leaf and off the post before being cleared. Somehow the Leafs managed to hang on and get the game to overtime to preserve at least one valuable point.
Chicago pretty much toyed with the Leafs early with Kane and Toews out there at the same time, until Kadri and Rielly broke out on a two on one that Rielly caught on his heel and shot wide, sending the puck the other way. As the Hawks cycled the puck in the Leafs zone, it appeared as though there were too many players on the ice for Chicago as Richard Panik came on, then quickly came off. The refs either didn’t see it, or deemed it to be inconsequential, so we played on as the action went back and forth, Matthews shot being blocked, Freddie stopping Kane with his shoulder, JvR having the door closed on him on a breakaway, until Artemi Panarin carried the puck in, and passed off to Ryan Hartman, who scored to end the game. The play was reviewed as Panarin was possibly offside, but it was ruled that the play stood. The Leafs did manage to gain a valuable point, putting them one up on the Islanders and two up on Tampa with a game in hand on both. They’re in action next on Monday night against the Bruins.
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Austen Matthews – Post Game