The Leafs journeyed to Detroit for their final game at the Joe Louis Arena. Detroit was already eliminated from the playoff race, so all they had to play for was vindictiveness.
The Red Wings came out with jump; they had a tremendous early chance when Matt Hunwick botched a clear, which was fed back into the zone to Drew Miller in the low circle. Andersen had to make a stunning glove save.
Having impressed with his goaltending, Andersen proceeded to impress with his playmaking. He hit Connor Brown with a fantastic stretch pass, although Brown wasn’t quite able to get clear. Despite this, the Red Wings seemed to be the more energetic team early, until a sustained Bozak line shift in the o-zone around the 4:30 mark.
Detroit had a particularly deadly stretch when the Zetterberg line matched against the Leafs’ fourth line in their own zone; some good puck movement led to Gustav Nyquist firing off a spinning backhand in the slot. Freddie was once again equal to the task.
The main excitement in the next few minutes was provided by big hits from Kadri and Kronwall. After that, Tyler Bozak high-sticked Nick Jensen and drew blood on an errant follow-through. Bozak was dinged for a double minor, and it took a number of great Andersen saves to keep the game tied. However, eighty seconds in, Morgan Rielly’s stick was slashed from his hands by Gustav Nyquist, leading to a 4-on-4 stretch in the middle of the Wings powerplay. The Leafs were dangerous in the 4-on-4, but no one scored either during that or the remaining Wings advantage.
It was a fast game, with lots of end to end action. You might think this would benefit the younger Leafs, but it was the Wings who looked more dangerous, and it was the Wings who scored first.
Frans Nielsen cut into the zone and dropped to Gustav Nyquist at the top of the circle, as Tomas Tatar went to the net. Nyquist’s shot may have been tipped by Tatar, but either way, it went top corner past Andersen. 1-0 Detroit.
Nylander was slow on a change there, and with the scoring shot coming high from the left point, it doesn’t look great. Nylander’s replacement, Kasperi Kapanen, gets on as fast as he can, but there’s no way the Leafs are going to recover enough to close off the right side.
The Leafs had the puck towards the end of this period, and you could find Nylander doing laps, or Marner working up the boards, and for one moment Zach Hyman trying to get a handle on a bouncing puck in the crease. But for the most part, the Leafs weren’t getting to the danger areas fast enough, and they were having trouble stopping the Wings from doing so. It wasn’t a great showing from the Leafs, who just needed more scoring chances. I’ve seen them play much worse, but Detroit just seemed to have more energy.
But still, they got out down 1-0. Come back stronger next period, Leafs.
Zach Hyman drew a hooking penalty on Nik Kronwall early in the period. After the Bozak PP unit struggled, the second group came on. Matthews carried the puck through the neutral zone and passed it to Leo Komarov, who picked it up and carried it in. Koma chipped it to Matthews below the hash marks. Matthews received the puck and threaded a perfect short-side shot so quickly I barely realized he had it before it was in. 1-1.
You know what? Just bask in that goal for a bit. Good God.
The Leafs woke up somewhat on offence, with Connor Brown getting a good slot chance that was blocked; from here they generated more and more chances. At the same time, the Wings went right on being dangerous. Wide-open game, I’m saying.
The Wings’ Riley Sheahan—currently the only NHL forward to ever have 100+ shots in a season and not score—had what seemed to be a perfect shortside rebound chance, but Connor Carrick and Andersen somehow kept the puck out.
Detroit just kept on coming; Tomas Tatar threw the puck cross-zone to Mike Green, who stepped in with a shot. Andersen—who to be clear was having an unreal game—made yet another save.
Despite all these Red Wing chances, it was the Leafs who struck next. Connor Carrick sprung Mitch Marner with a brilliant stretch pass; Marner streaked in and fired a puck top corner before sliding into the net. 2-1!
The Red Wings were displeased because shortly before the pass, Carrick hit Andreas Athanasiou in the face with a follow through, and Detroit wanted a penalty. But they didn’t get one.
The Leafs struck again in quick succession when William Nylander came in and made just a gorgeous pull-back wrister. Honestly Nylander’s wrist shot is a murder weapon. Holy shit. 3-1.
Despite the quick-strike open, though, the Leafs were still under siege when they got caught in their own zone. It led to the Wings getting back into the game.
Nick Jensen made a heroic effort, charging in from the point and firing it, then catching his own rebound and backhanding it past Andersen. The goal was challenged unsuccessfully for goaltender interference, and the score narrowed to 3-2 Leafs.
On the upside, here is a gif of Babs reviewing the goal on a screen that shows him reviewing the goal.
The period ended 3-2, but one more thing: Kasperi Kapanen is really goddamn fast.
Leafs run a set play off of the d-zone faceoff, springing Kapanen on an almost-break.— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) April 2, 2017
p.s. Kapanen can flat out fly. pic.twitter.com/9inL0EnSnn
The Leafs had more offence in the second (obviously), and were generating more chances. But defensively they were still a sieve, and they were counting time and again on excellent Andersen saves. I’d love to just ramble about how great the rookies are, because they are amazing, but I felt lucky we’d only given up two. Zetterberg in particular looked ten years younger than his age.
The Leafs nearly expanded their lead on a goofy play, where Jimmy Howard turned the puck over to Marner behind the net and Marner nearly tucked it in the net before Howard got back. Mitch banged it off the post as Howard scrambled over.
The Wings just kept coming. Zetterberg and Green stood out to me as especially dangerous, but it felt like a siege, with Andersen providing yeoman service to keep the Leafs ahead.
Jake Gardiner had a partial break that he didn’t seem to know what to do with, undergoing a sudden outbreak of Defenceman With A Scoring Chance Syndrome. He duffed the shot. A scrambling play around Howard ensued, but no goal.
Beyond that, though, the Leafs seemed to be in turtle mode, turning to dump-ins more than carry-ins and hoping to bleed the clock. This might be a natural psychological response to having blown so many leads earlier in the year, but it’s frustrating—and I think counterproductive—to see a team that excels at offence largely give up on trying to score.
Nazem Kadri was penalized for tripping Drew Miller with 8:41 remaining in the third. Between Andersen and some good luck on Tomas Tatar duffing a shot, Toronto killed the penalty. But the Red Wings just kept coming, and unsurprisingly, it eventually burned them.
This is a very, very nice pass by Zetterberg to give Kronwall basically an empty net to shoot at. No chance whatsoever for Andersen, and the pass went through both Matthews and Polak. But this is what happens when you’re getting steamrolled. Sooner or later, the other team scores. 3-3.
On the upside, once the game was tied, the Leafs started attacking again. Which suited them. Connor Brown did some good work in the corner to throw the puck back to Jake Gardiner; Gardiner passed the puck to Kadri in the slot, who redirected it to JVR. JVR slid the puck past Howard to regain the lead. 4-3 Leafs.
The Leafs had two minutes to kill, and yet—God bless them—the Leafs kept attacking. The jerry-rigged last minute line of Hyman-Matthews-Boyle charged in late and kept putting shots on net. Matthews recovered a bouncing puck off a Brian Boyle rebound, then fired it in for the 5-3. 38th of the season!
Because these are the Leafs and literally nothing can be relaxed, that was not the end of the scoring. As the Red Wings commenced their late flurry, Dylan Larkin threw the puck from the corner out to Mike Green, who came in firing from the point. The puck got through. 5-4. Help.
I had approximately eight heart attacks in the final minute. But the Leafs won 5-4.
- Auston Matthews has now scored more goals this season (38) than Phil Kessel’s career high (37). He has tied the Leaf rookie point record (66). He has tied for the most goals in a rookie year of any American in history. His lead on Patrik Laine is now four goals and four points, and he has to be considered the favourite to win the Calder. Most of all, look at the release on that first goal. Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner and William Nylander, are Toronto Maple Leafs.
- Okay, now let’s deal with some less pleasant stuff. Without Frederik Andersen the Leafs probably lose this game, and it’s possible they lose it ugly. The defensive work in this game was at times very poor, and the Leafs had some pretty discouraging stretches where Andersen had to make stunning glove saves. This might seem pessimistic in a game where Andersen only put up .905 (38 saves on 42 shots), but there were a huge number of plays where a Red Wing was left alone trying to pick a corner on the interior part of the circle. The Wings also crashed the net mercilessly.
- The fourth line was impressive in possession terms and also visibly so on the ice. Kapanen’s speed and Boyle’s physicality are a nice mix. I like our new fourth line. More of this please.
- The new top pairing of Gardiner-Zaitsev had nice numbers and some nice moments. Roman Polak had a night to forget, after a recent stretch of some improved play, but I want to be fair and acknowledge that no one player should be singled out as uniquely bad defensively.
- The Leafs do have a ridiculous amount of offensive talent, and it wins them hockey games. Look at the three rookie goals in the second, each of them beautiful.
- Toronto seems to be trying the stretch pass more in the last few weeks. It was most notable in Connor Carrick’s work on the Marner goal, but they tried it several other times, and it seems to be a tactic they’re emphasizing more.
- Imma just mention Matthews again. Matthews. Sweet God.
- Anyway, Henrik Zetterberg was easily the best Red Wing it felt like, consistently sparking offensive chances, though the Wings as a whole were dangerous. Riley Sheahan also is just straight up cursed never to score again; he had some very nice chances tonight that just kept going unrewarded.
- The Leafs are now tied in points with the Ottawa Senators for second place in the Atlantic division (91). Thanks to ROW, the Leafs have the tiebreaker. Lots of hockey still to be played, and the Leafs aren’t in until they’re in. But wins help a hell of a lot. Boston is one point back with one more game played. The Leafs have leads of five, seven and seven points over Tampa Bay, Carolina, and the Islanders, respectively.
- Next game is Monday against Buffalo. Go Leafs Go.