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Game Recap: Toronto Maple Leafs clinch playoff spot, beat Pittsburgh Penguins

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The big moments from the biggest Leafs game in years.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Life is nothing but a series of moments.

Live in the moment, people say.

Just a moment, when someone is busy.

A memento is “something that serves to warn or remind”. A snapshot of a memory.

Tonight we saw some of the biggest moments of the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Most were good.

One was bad.

Here they are.

Phil Kessel, a man loved and hated in Toronto. Booed all night when he had the puck. Waiting behind Matt Cullen as he battles at the boards with Connor Carrick. He gets the loose puck from Cullen, comes at Andersen alone and snipes it high blocker side to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.

Classic Phil, making it look like the easiest thing in the world to do.


Thirty seconds later James van Riemsdyk catches a flying puck with the blade of his stick as he crosses the blue line into the Penguins zone. He toys with Justin Schultz a bit before shooting to Marc-Andre Fluery’s glove side and tying the game.

Of course, this is a big Maple Leafs game, and big goal.

Mike Sullivan challenges the goal, claiming JVR is offside.

He’s wrong.

JVR is not offside (barely).

The game is 1-1.


Not every moment is a good one.

Tom Sestito, meet Frederik Andersen.

Remember, Andersen has taken more punishment in the past few weeks than anyone would like to see their goalie take. The Buffalo Sabres loved to go after Andersen. Now, one of the biggest shitbags in the NHL went after him.

Frederik Andersen would leave the game just 16:51 into the first period.

The game is tied, 1-1.

Curtis McElhinney, welcome to the biggest game of your life.


We jump ahead to the third period. The Maple Leafs and Penguins have traded goals, it’s 2-2. There’s only 13 minutes left in the game. If the Maple Leafs win, they’re in the playoffs. If they get a point, they only need one tomorrow against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The game is tied. That’s all we need for the next thirteen minutes.

Jake Guentzel and the Penguins enter the Maple Leafs zone. The Leafs are playing good defence and Guentzel has a garbage chance, but takes the puck hoping for a rebound.

Jake Gardner is the defenseman in front of Curtis McElhinney

I don’t think it could have happened to anyone else, of course it was poor Jake.

He got the rebound.

The puck deflects off Jake’s skate, and slowly rolls towards McElhinney who was too quick for it, and slides past the puck. Jake and Curtis get tangled and the puck slowly, painfully, slides into the Maple Leafs net.

Thirteen minutes to go.

The Maple Leafs are losing by one goal.


Times like these there are two directions to take. You can wallow. You can hide under a blanket as I did. You can cry.

You can look at the scoreboard and think, “We blew it”.

Maybe some Leafs teams could have done that.

These kids don’t know about those teams.

They only know about this one.

Seven minutes later, Auston Matthews is in the Penguins corner. He gets behind the Penguins net and passes to Nikita Zeitsev.

Kasperi Kapanen is all alone, as the Penguins are watching the future Calder trophy winner and the new hot d-man. Why pay attention to a fourth liner from the Marlies?

That’s why.

After sixteen NHL games, Kapanen scores the first NHL goal of his career.

Kapanen may have scored the biggest Maple Leafs goal of his career.

Goal number one, ties the game for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This goal undoes that unfortunate deflection.


Connor Brown once played on a line with all Connors back in the OHL. Connor Crisp, Connor McDavid, and Connor Brown.

Connor Brown was a -72 the season before Erie drafted McDavid.

Connor Brown was a Marlie, and he was good.

Connor Brown is a Maple Leaf, and his usage has been questioned, raged on, and complained about on and off this season.

Connor Brown is the man who got us to the playoffs.

It’s a mess in front of the Penguins net, and Gardiner has the puck near the blue line. He shoots at the Pittsburgh net, and the puck is deflected by Brown.

Jake Gardiner has repaid his debt to the Maple Leafs.

Connor Brown has made his mark on this season.


Every hockey game means something to someone. This game has meant more to Maple Leafs fans than any game over the past four years.

This season has been fun because of the rookies, but for me it’s been the most fun because my sons are now sitting and watching the games with me. We cuddle up under a king size comforter and it’s a great time.

My oldest began playing hockey this season, and now studies every game we watch together. He plays ball hockey at school and compares plays, from him to Matthews and Marner (and Phil Kessel, his favourite player) and complains about the first graders who are the referees.

As soon as Brown scored, he threw off the comforter and looked at me, and jumped at me - over his mother who is sitting between us - into my arms. We hugged and screamed, and celebrated like this was the Stanley Cup Final.

That’s my moment.


Auston Matthews.

Empty net.

Goal number 40.

We scream in our living room.

Others screamed in the bar, in the basement, in the arena.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will compete in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.


Tonight was a great night, highlighted by great and not so great moments.

What will tomorrow bring?

Tomorrow brings us the Columbus Blue Jackets at six pm.

A loss, the Maple Leafs play the Washington Capitals.

A win.

Oh, a win and the Maple Leafs play the Ottawa Senators.

The Battle of Ontario.

Even more moments, new and old.