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Auston Matthews wins game for Maple Leafs in 4-3 OT victory over rival Sabres

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Leafs vs. Sabres Rivalry delivers, and so did Auston Matthews.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Minnesota Wild
Dec 1, 2018; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) looks on during the game against the Minnesota Wild in the 3rd period at Xcel Energy Center. The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Minnesota Wild 5-3.
David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

If this game is a taste of what is to come between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres, I am so here for it. The Maple Leafs and Sabres walked into KeyBank Center on a Tuesday night and gave both their home fans a night they won’t forget. A slow build in the first period, turned into multiple lead changes in the second and third before Auston Matthews finally ended the contest with 2.7 seconds left in overtime, giving the Leafs a 4-3 victory over their Atlantic Division rivals. I think it’s safe to call them that now.

Not only did Matthews score the game-winner, but he two goals, one assist, and five shots in the win. On the other side, his counterpart Jack Eichel put together a two-goal, no-assist, eight-shot performance, The four combined goals between the 2015 and 2016 top picks either tied the game or gave their team the lead in key moments.

The supporting cast for this game was equally as good. Jake Gardiner put together a goal and assist in 24:48 minutes of ice time, only Morgan Rielly (25:50) skated for longer on the Leafs. While on the other side, Rasmus Ristolainen had four shots — oops I mean three — in 27:00 for the Sabres. He was all over the ice, and all over the players, namely Mitch Marner.

Before the game, there were a few moments that really got me excited a Leafs and hockey fan. First, William Nylander.

Second, the TSN pregame opening gave me goosebumps, despite Mark Hunter’s best efforts to make the announcements of Marner and Matthews as awkward as possible. The film making alone is really impressive.

First Period

The start of this game between the third- and fifth-best teams in the NHL was as you would expect: high-octane. Buffalo is a fast team, but it was Toronto who got the biggest chances early. Nazem Kadri and Andreas Johnsson combined for a great play up the wing that allowed Johnsson a clean chance to skate right through Linus Ullmark’s crease and look for an opening at the far side. The Leafs would converge on an open rebound, but the puck would get cleared in the nick of time.

However, from that moment on, the Sabres really piled on the pressure in the Leafs’ zone. Over the course of the next 10 minutes, the Sabres top-six forwards threw 20 pucks at Frederik Andersen’s net. Freddy stopped all 13 shots on net, including a particularly impressive stop on man-who-can’t-count Ristolainen.

Marner woke up his team late in the period with a couple dynamic shifts. Ristolainen didn’t like what he saw so he climbed on Marner in the middle of the offensive zone while the puck was in the corner and “legally” took the 21-year-old out of the play. Not sure how a penalty wasn’t called; it easily could’ve been called interference, holding, or harassment. Whatever.

After One

The middle 10 minutes of the period was a train wreck for the Maple Leafs, the Sabres were up by 11-shot attempts at one point in the first period. Luckily, a late push brought the Leafs back to only a three shot-attempt deficit. At the end of the period, the Leafs were behind in shot attempts (18-21), shots (7-14), but led in scoring chances (10-8).

Second Period

It was a fairly tame start to the second period for both teams, the TSN broadcast had to revert to telling the stories of the referees and linesmen on the ice. It was nice, but the first goal of the game was a lot nicer.

1-0

Auston scored again. You knew this, he does it every game. Literally. With the second-period goal, Auston has 14 goals in 14 games this season. Usually we see him snipe a shot from distance, that’s his bread and butter, but this time he caught a Ron Hainsey rebound with his glove and finished off a lightning quick wraparound on Ullmark to give the Leafs their first lead of the game.

It took over 30 minutes for a penalty to be called, but when the damn did break Connor Brown was sent to the box for interference. Buffalo’s power play would get cut short, however, due to the outstanding hustle displayed by Zach Hyman. For the second game in a row, he was able to muscle the opposing defenseman off the puck and get away for a breakaway. Instead of an empty-net goal, Hyman drew a hooking penalty on Tage Thompson. It should’ve been a penalty shot, but I think even Fulemin would admit taking the four-on-four would be a better use of the advantage, incase Hyman missed the net.

1-1

The Sabres would respond six minutes later when a cleanly won faceoff from Jeff Skinner allowed former Hab Nathan Beaulieu to get a clean look at the net from the point. Both Skinner and Sam Reinhart were in the shooting lane and it ended up being Renhart who got his stick on the puck to deflect it past Freddy Andersen. Par Lindholm and Ron Hainsey were supposedly covering Skinner and Reinhart, respectively, but neither took their man out of the way.

2-1

Once again, Hyman did a great job pushing the puck out of the defensive zone and create the offensive rush with Marner. John Tavares wasn’t far behind from his linemates. He took an amazing pass from Marner towards the front of the net, but couldn’t score. So instead, Tavares sent an even better no-look backhand pass to Gardiner for an easy finish. Love the celly from Henry’s daddy.

After Two

The second period was statistically even between the Leafs and Sabres. At 5-on-5, the shot-attempts (17-17) and scoring chances (9-9) were tied, but the Sabres edged the Leafs in shots on goal (9-10).

Third Period

2-2

The fourth line got caught out against the Sabres’ first line and the inevitable happened. The Leafs were on their heels for the entire shift, getting just peppered in shots. Eventually, Eichel got a cross-ice pass from Ristolainen and pounded home the one-timer. I must admit, Gardiner missed his man, but the seam pass being so open was definitely also an issue. No one was in position on that play.

2-3

Oh no, Nikita and Nazem. Kadri gave the puck away in the defensive zone to the Leafs’ new boogeyman Jack Eichel, who danced Zaitsev in the slot and beat Freddy with a little more than seven minutes left in regulation.

The Leafs were doing such a good job up until that point playing on the road getting shots and chances. The Marleau-Matthews-Kapanen line hadn’t been doing so well, but the Tavares line was dancing. Tavares got a breakaway that Ullmark stopped with frustrating swagger. It just took one mistake for the tide to change. Alas.

3-3

TAKE EVERYTHING I SAID BACK BECAUSE PATTY MARLEAU SCORED LESS THAN TWO MINUTES LATER FROM RIELLY AND MATTHEWS!

The clock ticked down to less than 30 seconds with the two teams tied and Marner tried to go off for one last rush. He skated over the blueline, cut to the middle of the ice, and ripped a...muffin off a body in front. If only this kid had a better shot, he’d be one of the most complete players around the league. Anyway, overtime was neccessary in Buffalo.

Overtime

The Marner-Tavares-Rielly unit hemmed in their own zone for their entire first shift, but they were able to get possession of the puck long enough to change to Marleau and Matthews. That pair with Gardiner also got caught in their own zone by Evan Rodrigues-Reinhart-Ristolainen, neutralizing their shift.

Thankfully, the Leafs have Kasperi Kapanen. After what felt like hours of the Sabres noodling in their own zone, Kapanen stole the puck at the offensive blueline and wired a shot to the top corner. Ullmark somehow got a piece of it, but that one moment changed the momentum of the period; the Leafs had control.

4-3 OT

Despite Buffalo’s best attempts of dragging overtime as late as they can, Matthews and Kapanen had different plans. With less than 10 seconds left in the period, they grabbed the puck from Nikita Zaitsev at their own goal line and sped down the ice towards the Sabres net. Kapanen dropped the puck at the top of the slot for Auston to do his famous J-shot up and over the glove of Ullmark, ending the game, and winning the QEW Derby with 2.7 seconds left on the clock.

WOOOOOO!!!!!!