Coming off a huge win on Tuesday against the Panthers, the Leafs flew to Nashville to take on the Predators, who were in a similar spot in the standings, trying to catch the team in front of them to avoid a wildcard spot and a harder first round playoff matchup. The Leafs for their part were trying to put distance between themselves and the rest of the back for third in the Atlantic Division as well as the second Eastern Conference wild card.
The first period of this game was among the more dull periods of the season, with the exception of two strong shifts in the offensive zone from the Matthews line. Things picked up in the last 6 minutes of the period after a terrific penalty kill by the Leafs. Frederik Andersen made a couple of great saves, one diving awkwardly to his right, and another with Mike Fisher directly on the doorstep. After the save on Fisher, the play shifted up the ice, Mattias Ekholm tried to keep it in the zone, and Matt Martin steamrolled him with a clean hit. However Austin Watson took exception and went after Martin, who did nothing to defend himself, leading to a roughing penalty for Watson. After Tyler Bozak won the ensuing faceoff, the Predators attempted to clear, but Mitch Marner managed to get the puck back to Nikita Zaitsev, who fired a shot that was going wide, before being tipped by JvR into the back of the net to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead. The assist was Marner’s 41st of the season, breaking Gus Bodnar’s Leafs rookie record. P.K. Subban had a shot at a nearly open net in the dying seconds, however it was blocked, and the Leafs went to the locker room with a 1-0 lead.
The Leafs got into penalty trouble in the second period, but the penalty kill was absolutely fantastic. One sequence in particular, Connor Brown and Kasperi Kapanen forced Nashville’s power play to cycle the puck behind their own net for approximately 45 seconds with an aggressive forecheck. Kapanen in particular was much stronger on the puck killing penalties in the second, after having it knocked off of his stick a couple of times in the first. It’s encouraging to see a young player like him make such a quick adjustment to his game. After killing off three Nashville power plays in the second, the Leafs finally got one of their own late in the period. It was an extremely disjointed effort for the first 1:30 of the man advantage, with the Leafs unable to enter the Nashville zone with control, until William Nylander carried in, fired a shot off of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, got the rebound to Jake Gardiner, who sent a touch pass to Connor Brown. Brown adjusted the angle of his pass to get in under Ryan Johansen’s stick to Auston Matthews, who ripped it past Rinne to send the Leafs to the break with a 2-0 lead.
As has been the case in most games that they’ve had the lead of late, the Leafs went into a defensive shell in the third period, unlike recent games it was terrifying, Nashville fired shot after shot at the Leafs net, with Freddie Andersen making spectacular saves at times, and having a PK Subban shot squeak between his arm and his body and just trickle wide once. The fort couldn’t hold forever, and eventually, Ryan Johansen found Filip Forsberg, who ripped a shot past Andersen to cut the lead to 2-1. With the Leafs holding on by their thumbs, Roman Polak took an absolutely ridiculous penalty for holding Viktor Arvidsson. Polak had has his glove knocked off and decided to retaliate. When William Nylander did the same the other night, I said it showed that he wouldn’t be pushed around. Everyone knows Polak won’t be pushed around and he’s a veteran, supposed to be there for his leadership, so that’s a time that he really just has to let it go. He didn’t however, and the Leafs headed to the penalty kill. Andersen stood tall as the Preds launched five shots at him. One particularly terrifying sequence, Andersen gloved a shot, dropped it as it trickled behind him as he spun around, knocking the puck out of the crease but to a Nashville player who poked it off Freddie’s glove, as it rolled up on his back and dropped back down in front of him. Connor Brown would add an empty netter to give the Leafs a 3-1 lead, keeping pace with Tampa, Carolina, and Boston, moving to seven points ahead of the Islanders, and to within two points of Ottawa for second in the Atlantic Division. They’re back in action Saturday night in Detroit against the Red Wings.
SCORING BY PERIOD
Toronto Goal 18:42 J. van Riemsdyk (24) (power play) assisted by N. Zaitsev and M. Marner
Toronto Goal 18:43 A. Matthews (36) (power play) assisted by C. Brown and J. Gardiner
Nashville Goal 9:37 F. Forsberg (30) assisted by R. Johansen and V. Arvidsson
Toronto Goal 19:01 C. Brown (19) assisted by N. Kadri and J. Gardiner
SHOTS ON GOAL BY PERIOD
MIKE BABCOCK POST GAME
To be posted when made available….
In the mean time enjoy Joe Bowen calling the 36th goal by Autson Matthews