January 01 2017 05:15PM
With the way most of these outdoor NHL games become so much of a spectacle, it's sometimes easy to overlook the two points on the line. And for the Leafs, climbing into the thick of the playoff race due to a strong month of December, another win against a divisional opponent would be a nice way to open the 2017 calendar. What they got was just that, but the fans who filed in for the first ever NHL outdoor game in Toronto got a whole lot more.
Toronto came out of the gate in this one looking very strong, at times dominant, through the majority of the first period. Teams tend to opt for simplicity in these games due to the unusual atmosphere, and that was working for Babcock early, as the Wings were on their heels and turning over the puck over plenty under heavy forechecking. When Detroit made their inevitable pushback, Andersen was typical Andersen. In fact, both goalies made things look pretty clean through 20, as teams headed in from the (mild) cold tied at zip.
Mantha got things going for Detroit early in the second with an unspectacular goal (I'm blaming it on the weird lighting), and from there things got fairly boring for a while. The Leafs continued to carry play for the most part, but aside from a Gardiner powerplay shot off the post, couldn't get much of anything going offensively in the frame.
Fast-forward to the third, where the Leafs remembered they're actually good.
Komarov finally got Toronto on the board with some hard-nosed net play, which was fitting since the guys who are typically good in the chip-and-chase and checking game seemed most at home outdoors. He and Hyman especially seemed to be doing solid work.
That Komarov goal seemed to loosen everyone up, because then Matt Martin kicked the shit out of Steve Ott and the Leafs just started pouring it on in waves. The doors blew off.
Marner gettin’ silly pic.twitter.com/NFh5OUTVxr— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 1, 2017
Auston Matthews snipeshow, 4-1 Leafs pic.twitter.com/0E3L6kIatZ— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) January 1, 2017
But then the Leafs remembered something else: They can't hold leads, specifically of the 4-1 variety. I don't really want to re-live all that, but let's just say the Wings' comeback and (controversial) tying goal with just one second to go in regulation helped make this outdoor game perhaps the best of all time to most objective observers, and inarguably the most entertaining Leafs game of the season.
Of course, I'm only able to say that second part because of this:
Matthews wins it OT pic.twitter.com/mS2QiPwYfy— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 1, 2017
Matthews. It's Auston Matthews.
2 goals, including the overtime winner that saved us from all new "4-1" jokes. 20 goals on the season, good for third overall in the league. Leading rookie scoring with 32 points.
Here's a quick look at the shot-attempt battle, via HockeyStats.ca. An unsurprisingly close one considering the style of play for most of this game. All those red dots signify where the fans started getting their money's worth.
SEE YOU NEXT TIME
It's back to indoor games as the Leafs hit the road for a tilt against the Capitals on Tuesday. You'll remember they did well against Washington earlier this season at the ACC (a 4-2 Toronto win), with the Caps being the tired team on the second half of a back-to-back. I'm thinking things will be more difficult this time around, especially with the potential letdown after such a massive event in Toronto this evening. Still, you can't count these Leafs out of anything right now, so onward and hopefully upward.