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Maple Leafs blow out the Penguins in the first, grind it out in the third, win it in the end

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It was a hilarious goalfest that turned into a lesson in withstanding one of the toughest one-two punches in the league.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Toronto Maple Leafs

So it’s off to see the two-time champs, eh? Toronto wants to be where Pittsburgh has been according to Mike Babcock, and I assume he doesn’t mean mostly bankrupt and bailed out by the star player you owe money too.

And yes, absolutely, Toronto wants to find the secret sauce Pittsburgh uses to win cups with iffy-looking defencemen. The answer might simply be to wait for the maturation process on the not iffy-looking forwards, but in the meantime, can they beat Pittsburgh in the here and now?

Most probability projections have this game at 55-45 in favour of the Penguins, and a touch of that is home ice advantage. For the Leafs to win this, it seems like Andersen needs to outplay the rookie Tristan Jarry. Or maybe it’s time for the forwards to score their way out of one.

First Period

Zippy anthem, I like that. O Canada is not a dirge.

Lots of Toronto fans here. Auston flips the puck to a kid in blue, which is cute, and soon the Blue and White will stain every arena, which will make them all hate us.

Crosby says heh-ho to Nazem Kadri with a hit early. I’m sure they’ll compare Amazon wishlists throughout the game.

So, okay. Honesty time. I was about to type: Connor Brown gets the puck and whirls to pass to the point, imagine that. And then he got it back and scored. But, seriously, it’s his go-to move, and he does it when getting the puck on net would be a better idea. His scoring touch hasn’t deserted him, however, so I’ll shut up about it!

1-0 Leafs.

And while I was typing that Mitch Marner took the puck for a swing around behind the net and that was enough to break open the space in front for James van Riemsdyk. Leafs! This is starting on time at a whole new level!

2-0 Leafs.

Leafs take a too many men penalty. I guess it’s the coaches that didn’t start on time, right, Babs?

Pittsburgh offside and icing the puck during their power play. Not a good start. For them. I’m worried about how they’ll finish.

Patric Hornqvist speaks some classic Swedish to the zebras after a whistle he didn’t like. He takes his frustration out on Andreas Borgman in front of the Leafs net, and that’s likely going to get him a request for an autographed stick after the game and not much else.

Big fourth-line on fourth-line tilt in the Penguins zone sees some bodies flying, but both Dominic Moore and William Nylander were able to keep the puck alive while the pointless hits landed on them.

Kadri line with a three on one and a half, and they get a good shot off because it’s Morgan Rielly playing wing. They have Jarry scrambling eggs in the crease, and get a nice loud ping.

Tyler Bozak’s line comes on, and they do like the offensive zone. Marner laces one through traffic, and Jarry can’t control the puck. Easy goal for Bozie.

3-0 Leafs!

So, Penguins. Can we interest in you in a hot AHL goalie? Or a steady, experienced veteran backup? We have several models to choose from. Operators are standing by to take your call. Seriously though. Word is (Bob McKenzie’s word) that the Panthers are now looking for a legit, young, experienced NHLer. If they go for Hutchinson from the Jets as seems plausible, who else can the Penguins trade for? Unlike a lot of teams, though, they have the nerve to wait this out.

Jake Guentzel had Andersen beat ten times over and loses control of the puck. All the Penguins’ luck is bad. My god! There’s five minutes left in this period. Anything can happen.

Pittsburgh has a not great defensive shift that turns into a power play because neither Roman Polak nor Borgman could handle the transition play of a depth line. Borgman sometimes does very panicky things at that moment of transitional pressure either in the neutral zone or at the defensive blueline.

Giving the Penguins power plays is a very dumb lifeplan.

The Leafs survive this bad idea for now, and the horn blows, not quite as loud as Hornqvist yells, and it’s 3-0 after one period of play.

The Numbers

The Oilers are up 2-0 on the Habs! This is a good stat because we want the Oilers self-satisfied and complacent.

Oh, dear. That’s. Hmmm. That’s not how you should play when your rookie is in net. Also, not really a good advertisement for iffy defenders as a lifestyle.

Second Period

The Penguins have decided to bring in Casey DeSmith for the second period. And now it’s a brand new rookie to handle the Leafs.

Have to rag on the broadcast a little for saying the Leafs have been better defensively lately. Mostly it’s been Andersen and the lack of power in the opposition. However, it’s working, let’s not complain.

Pittsburgh takes a penalty, and it’s to Kris Letang on Marleau. The old man is too much for him, I guess, and that’s how it is. You burn out chasing the young guys who are spread out on the other three lines, and then the fastest old guy on skates hits you on the Kadri line.

Nylander shot! And, ahhhh, Nylander on the ice with good linemates. I like power plays.

The Penguins do a good job killing the penalty, largely by disrupting the setup.

Moore pulls a nasty trip on Olli Maatta into the corner boards, and one goes to the box and the other down the tunnel. That could have been really bad. Stupid too.

Andersen is down like a toddler on his butt, but he still makes the save.

Maatta is back, which is good. The Penguins power play looks bland, which is better.

Kadri gets a sweet breakaway, but it comes to naught.

The Crosby line gets some zone time against Bozak and company, and you know, I see what people are saying about Sid. That should be a guaranteed goal, and they get no real chance. The whole team looks weak in basic execution, which is really weird.

The Leafs are just rolling lines and getting in at least, semi-deep. Mitch Marner comes close with a chance where he passes to van Riemsdyk.

Matthews gets a shift against the Penguins depth, and it works out well, but Brown is the only one making shots. Nylander shows up with the fourth line right after and gets some cycle action going.

The play moves the other way, and one of the Penguins totally has hold of Rielly’s stick so it adds to the odd balance of the odd-man rush. Riley Sheahan scores on the play. Bad call. The ref misses it. Boooo. Let’s get Hornqvist to yell at him.

3-1 Leafs.

To liven things up, the Leafs take yet another penalty for highsticking. It’s Zach Hyman in the box, meaning one major penalty killer out of action.

The Penguins look like they mean it now, and the power play gets uninterrupted zone time, and the best PKer is Andersen.

The Leafs finally clear at the one-minute mark, and the Penguins struggle to get setup. When they do, there’s a flurry at the net that Andersen sorts out, but the next one goes in. Evgeni Malkin, who played all of the power play.

Bad life choice Leafs.

3-2 Leafs.

The Bozak line comes out while the airhorns are blowing and the crowd is going wild. Jake Gardiner shoots it from the blueline, and was it tipped? Bozak gets credit on the tip.

4-2 Leafs.

That was it for that fun-filled period. Let’s make the third more boring, guys, okay?

The Numbers

Oilers are up 4-1 over the Habs, so that’s good.

The Leafs are still the poster children for shot quality arguments. The Corsi is virtually tied, while score adjusted gives the Leafs the edge. But the closer you get to the net, the more the shot totals favour the Leafs. The High-Danger Chances are 12-4 for the Leafs without score adjusting!

The Penguins cannot play like this all the time, or they will not be making a deep playoff run, no matter who is net for them. And I’ll admit that the broadcast wasn’t totally off base on the defensive execution of the Leafs.

Third Period

Oh, nasty. Hornqvist accidentally takes a shot off the head. At least it was deflected so it wasn’t full power, but yuck. Hope he’s okay and back out there yelling.

Borgman with another miscue under pressure at the blueline. More video room time for you, young man.

This game seems to have slowed to a standstill with Matthews line hemmed in. You don’t want to be standing still in the defensive zone. Matthews gets one of the tough lines (Crosby) while Kadri gets the other (Malkin), and both are getting snowed in. (Which is why Nylander is still on the fourth line, even if we all hate it.)

The Bozak line, who don’t have either of those tough lines to contend with, get some fun zone time, and Andersen gets to take a breather.

Mitch Marner is fun, you know.

Matthews’ line gets to experience some more of Crosby playing much better than he did in the first period, and they get absolutely stuck fast in the defensive zone. It’s painful to watch. I’m sure Babcock is grinding his teeth down too. But it’s a good chance for Matthews and Hyman to run a drill this hard.

On his next shift, Matthews gets loose from Crosby and got a breakaway. That had to feel good even if it was broken up by a defender.

Jake Gardiner dumps Phil Kessel in the corner, and Phil comes up laughing.

Kessel works extra hard on the ensuing forecheck, so maybe don’t wake him up next time, Jake. Andersen has their backs as Kadri’s line take a lot of hits.

Bozak’s line make hay in the sunshine again, spending their shift in sight of the Pittsburgh net. The Leafs have run the clock to six minutes left, mostly the hard way.

The next bit of excitement is when Marner gets the puck in the defensive zone and takes it up-ice for some fun. He is just floating out there, reading the play perfectly, holding it in. He might be one of the best forwards to have cover a defenceman who has jumped up offensively on the team. The Marner-Rielly pairing is starting to look very good.

And it was inevitable, the Leafs get sloppy defensively with Matthews out there versus Crosby. All the Leafs head for the puck side of the ice, and Crosby gets a lovely cross-crease pass even I could score on.

To make matters worse, Matthews takes a hard check from Morgan Rielly.

4-3 Leafs.

There is less than two minutes left, so the goalie is out of the net for the Penguins, and it’s hang on by your fingernails time.

Kadri needs to play this perfectly.

Andersen is down and out, but the Leafs clear the puck without icing it.

One minute.

Matthews out there now. Do it, kid.

Ping! Olli Maatta hits the post.

Seconds now.

HORN! The Leafs win! What a finish! OMG, Leafs, you gutted that one out.

Leafs win 4-3!

Random Thoughts

  • It’s way better to have an experienced starter on a hot streak than a cold rookie in net.
  • Kadri could barely handle Crosby last year in their head-to-head, so I’m not going to fault Matthews for putting up dreadful numbers.
  • Whatever the Leafs can do to develop Borgman’s defensive smarts more rapidly will be very much needed against tougher competition.
  • The Penguins did not play a good game for most of this one.
  • The Leafs did not at all lose focus with the lead. The tough challenge of facing Crosby as he ramped up his play seems to have focused everyone’s minds well.
  • Half the Leafs will be saying tomorrow: I went to Pittsburgh and all I got were these bruises.
  • Oh, and the Oilers chased Carey Price and won it 6-2.