The Leafs knew they would need to get off to a much better start than they have in the past couple of games, and get off to a better start they did, controlling much of the early play, and creating a prime scoring opportunity, as Zach Hyman was able to strip the puck from Tyler Seguin, and feed Connor Brown out in front of the net. Brown beat Antti Niemi on the far side, but rang the shot off the far post as the game remained scoreless. The Leafs continued to press as Roman Polak blocked a shot, the puck careened to Mitch Marner, who, from his knees, magically flipped the puck past all the Stars defense, and hit Tyler Bozak for a breakaway chance, which Niemi was barely able to handle.
The hard work would eventually pay off as Marner fed Jake Gardiner at the point, Gardiner would blast a shot past Niemi to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead. Down at the other end of the ice, the Stars would have their chances as well, however the Leafs seemed to be communicating well together and limiting the type of multiple opportunity scrambles that were their undoing against the Islanders.
With 1:58 remaining the period, Nazem Kadri took a penalty for hooking Patrick Eaves in front of the Leafs net, and to make matters worse, took an additional penalty for cross checking Eaves while the Leafs were attempting to gain control of the puck. The Leafs were able to kill off the first 1:58 of the penalty at the end of the period to end the first frame with a 1-0 lead.
Starting the 2nd period on the the penalty kill for another 2:02, the Leafs were able to come out and stifle the Stars offense, killing off the 2nd of Nazem Kadri’s double minor. From there it would be all Leafs as they outshot Dallas 17-7 and again were able to clear the majority of the rebounds before allowing a 2nd chance opportunity for the Stars.
Dallas managed a couple of decent chances however, a front of the net scramble resulted in Roman Polak physically picking up Jamie Benn and moving him off of Curtis McElhinney, as though he were moving a large bag of mulch. A 2nd good chance came when Adam Cracknell took a feed on a shorthanded 2 on 1 during a particularly listless Leafs powerplay. However he quickly remembered that he’s Adam Cracknell and basically pushed the puck directly into McElhinney’s pad. The Leafs on the other hand buzzed for the majority of the period, with quality chances for Gardiner, Polak, Bozak, and Kadri, before Auston Matthews was able to tip home Jake Gardiner’s floating shot from the point to make it 2-0 Leafs with under 3 to play in the 2nd for his 25th of the year as the Leafs closed out the period with that same 2-0 lead.
At the start of the 3rd period, the question on everyone’s mind was, of course, how could the Leafs manage to mess this one up. Dallas came out and had the better of the play early. Roughly 4 minutes into the frame, Zach Hyman took a holding the stick penalty, which was an interesting call as the play appeared to show that the Stars player was not, in fact, carrying his stick on the back of his jersey, which Hyman did lightly grab. It didn’t matter however as Ben Smith lost the draw, which according to NHL.com he did 60% of the time tonight, the only Leafs centerman under 50%, and Tyler Seguin absolutely bombed a one timer past McElhinney to cut the Leafs lead to 2-1. The Leafs however did not panic as they had in previous games, they dug in and worked hard, and were rewarded with a power play when Cody Eakin cross checked Mitch Marner, breaking his stick in half on Marner’s back. The Leafs cycled the puck in the Dallas end for about 45 seconds, never really coming close to a prime scoring chance, until Dallas was able to clear and start a rush the other way, with the puck finishing on Adam Cracknell’s stick yet again. However again Cracknell realized his identity in the nick of time, slamming into McElhinney and getting sent to the box for goalie interference, a call that Stars coach Lindy Ruff vehemently disagreed with….for some reason. The Leafs were able to fire quite a few pucks at Niemi, however Dallas managed to hang on and kill off the Eakin penalty to get back to 5 on 4, for about 5 seconds, as Radek Faksa appeared to play the puck with his hand on the face off, which is a violation of NHL rules. With Faksa in the box, the Leafs again found themselves with a 5 on 3 advantage, and this time they wouldn’t squander it, as Nikita Zaitsev scored through a Leo Komarov screen to make it 3-1 Leafs. Unlike in previous games where the Leafs have gotten a multi goal lead and imploded, they were sound defensively in this one, giving up quite a few shots, but only a few real, quality scoring chances, and when they did break down McElhinney was equal to the task, as the Leafs hung on to take a 3-1 win, pulling 2 points ahead of Boston for 3rd in the Atlantic division and even with the Ottawa Senators for 2nd, although Ottawa has 1 game in hand. They’re back in action Thursday night as they take on the St. Louis Blues at Air Canada Center.
Toronto Goal 9:09 J. Gardiner (7) assisted by M. Marner and T. Bozak
Toronto Goal 17:32 A. Matthews (25) assisted by J. Gardiner
Dallas Goal 4:00 T. Seguin (20) (power play) assisted by C. Eakin
Toronto Goal 7:26 N. Zaitsev (2) (power play) assisted by N. Kadri and M. Rielly
SHOTS ON GOAL
By the Numbers
MIKE BABCOCK POST GAME
GAME IN SIX