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Core Four combine for nine points, propel Maple Leafs over Stars 5-4

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Joseph Zita
18 days ago
Now that the unofficial second half of the 2023-24 season is underway following the All-Star break, the details in games are even more crucial as teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs look to find consistency in their play as they get set to make a push toward the playoffs in the remaining 35 games or so, with another difficult task coming last night against the Dallas Stars.

First period:

After coming off a solid game but coming out on the losing end of a 3-2 score against the Islanders on Monday night, the Maple Leafs needed to find a way to get back in the win column if they wanted to continue climbing the standings after winning four of their previous five games heading into Monday night. But a test against the third-overall Stars wasn’t going to be an easy task by any means, even with them playing the night prior in Buffalo. It’s evident Toronto has a lot of problems, and their record at home is one of them also (11-10-2 heading into last night’s game), so a good outing against one of the league’s best would go a long way if they wanted to start building consistency.
Luckily for them, they were the ones who opened the scoring, unlike their last game. After Nick Robertson took a high stick, it sent Toronto to their first power play just over five minutes into the contest. Although Dallas wasn’t giving Toronto much to work with, a William Nylander one-timer beat Scott Wedgewood to give his club the early 1-0 lead.
With the early lead in their back pocket, Toronto struggled to generate offence, unlike Dallas, who felt like they threw a million pucks toward the net, with some of them getting blocked on the way to Samsonov. Unfortunately, that ended. After killing off an earlier penalty that Jake McCabe took, Tyler Bertuzzi went to the box for high-sticking 200 feet from his net, and it took the Stars just eight seconds to find the back of the net after a face-off loss from William Nylander.
Now that the game was tied up at one, the Maple Leafs still hadn’t looked their best with the countless turnovers in their zone and the lack of chances in the Stars’ zone. With that being the case, the next goal in the game was crucial, and it went to Dallas after yet another turnover from Toronto. Evgenii Dadonov bolted toward the Leafs’ net, got around McCabe and beat Samsonov for his 11th of the season.
It didn’t get better for the home team as the period was coming to a close. They couldn’t find any offensive zone time, which didn’t help them generate shots or shot attempts. Toronto entered the first intermission down 2-1, outshot 10-4, and Dallas held the shot attempt advantage 30-10.

Second period:

The same mistakes were creeping up in the Maple Leafs game with the constant turnovers once the second period began. Luckily, one of their turnovers happened because Tyler Seguin was called for hooking, sending Toronto to another man advantage. It took the top unit just five seconds to tie the game back up as John Tavares wired his 15th of the season past Wedgewood.
After Tavares tied the game up for his team, Toronto would take another penalty, this time their 10th too-many-men penalty of the season, sending Dallas to their third power play. Fortunately, not only did Toronto’s penalty kill do a solid job at defending the Dallas unit, but they out-chanced the Stars with about three glorious looks of their own as they tried to retake the lead on the penalty kill.
Both teams traded scoring chances in the period, with Toronto looking slightly more dangerous than they did in the first period, but they seemed unable to score at five-on-five as both goals earlier came on the power play. And that trend continued when they would get their third power play of the night when Miro Heiskanen got whistled for hooking.
Auston Matthews won the puck back along the wall amidst a Stars clearing attempt and got a fortunate bounce to go his way as his pass deflected off a Stars defender’s skate and past Wedgewood. He was due for one after hitting iron three times on one shot against the Islanders in their last game.
After the goal from Matthews to make it 3-2, no one scored again, but there was rough stuff that happened at the end of the period that would eventually lead to more in the final period. Mason Marchment finished a late hit on Jake McCabe, leaving him bloody as he made his way to the bench. He and Sheldon Keefe were not happy about the missed call for interference.
Toronto entered the second intermission up 3-2 but got outshot 22-16.

Third period:

It was evident that the interaction from the late hit on McCabe was going to carry over into the final period of regulation because it was clear how livid the Toronto defender was after he was interfered with. McCabe finally had Marchment lined up for a hit and did not miss his chance to lay him out. Unfortunately, he also got his partner, Simon Benoit, causing both to fall over.
The rough stuff continued throughout the period, as it did in the game, and the score remained 3-2 for Toronto for quite some time after Matthews scored just over midway in the second period. It took almost 20 minutes of game time for the next goal to be scored, and unfortunately, it wasn’t Toronto. After a TV timeout, Mark Giordano got burned in transition and took a penalty on Evgenii Dadonov, sending him in for a penalty shot on Samsonov. Sitting on one goal already, the Russian winger would score his second of the night and 12th of the season, tying the game at three.
Roughly 30 seconds later, the top line hopped on the ice and went to work, sniffing the go-ahead goal. Mitch Marner received and settled a pass from Matthews, and he roofed his 22nd of the season past Wedgewood to retake the lead. That’s how you respond to a goal against.
Just 20 seconds after Marner made it 4-3, John Tavares and William Nylander played catch, and Nylander sniped his second of the night and 25th of the season to give his team the two-goal lead. Once a 3-2 game turned into a 5-3 game, as both teams scored three goals in roughly 50 seconds.
After Nylander gave his team a two-goal cushion, the Stars pulled the goalie for the extra attacker with roughly three minutes to go. Sitting on one career hat-trick, Nylander tried to ice the game with his third of the night but missed the net from behind center ice, giving the Stars an offensive zone face-off. Although they didn’t score directly off the draw, they eventually scored to get within one goal soon after as Wyatt Johnston scored his 16th of the season, putting fear in Maple Leafs fans.
Toronto would hold it down for the remaining minute and a half, securing the 5-4 win on home ice, improving to 5-2-0 in their last seven games.

Who stood out:

The core four showed up last night and put on a show for the fans in attendance and the ones watching at home. Five goals and four assists for nine points, going three-for-three on the power play, will catch the attention of many who watched the game last night.
Depth scoring has been an issue for this team for the entire season, and when almost every forward outside the core four is scoring, it’s noticeable. But at least the big boys are getting the job done, especially John Tavares, who is now on a three-game point streak (three goals and three assists) after struggling weeks ago.
You can catch the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game on Saturday night when they visit Ottawa to take on the Senators. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT.
(Stats from hockey-reference.com)

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