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Knee Jerk Reaction: Leafs stay hot with shootout win over the Rangers

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Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Richard
1 month ago
The Leafs entered Saturday’s matchup against the Metropolitan Division leading New York Rangers with a record of 12-3-0 in their previous 15 games, and they continued their winning ways with a hard-fought shootout victory in a contest that was befitting of two original six franchises facing off on Hockey Night in Canada.
Toronto came out strong to start the game but found themselves down a goal just over halfway through the opening frame after Alexis Lafreniere capitalized on some soft defensive zone coverage by the Leafs’ second line. Max Domi got trapped low in the zone and William Nylander allowed Lafreniere to walk in to the high slot all alone after he flew the zone too early and showed little urgency to get back. There were multiple errors on the play but Nylander’s poor effort drew the ire of Sheldon Keefe, and the star winger didn’t see a shift for the rest of the period.
Mitch Marner got the Leafs on the board to tie the game off of a great individual play early in the second period, but the stalemate would be shortlived. Less than two minutes later, another aggressive play in the offensive zone led to an odd man rush the other way and Vincent Trocheck was able to sneak one under the arm of Ilya Samsonov and restore the Rangers’ lead.
Despite a couple of mistakes that ended up in the back of their net, the Leafs were controlling the run of play for long stretches, and following some relentless pressure by the Leafs’ second unit, it was Nylander who redeemed his earlier gaffe to bring the Leafs even once again. It was far from the prettiest goal on Nylander’s highlight reel as he beat Igor Shesterkin with a seeing-eye shot that changed direction on its way into the back of the net, but the way he and his linemates were able to maintain possession and wear down the opposition was impressive.
The goal that gave them their first lead of the game was a similar story, and one that should be encouraging heading into the stretch drive and playoffs where things tighten up and there is less open ice to work with in the offensive zone. This time, it was the newly formed third line of Bobby McMann, John Tavares, and the returning Calle Järnkrok bringing it on the forecheck, with McMann forcing a couple of turnovers before a Järnkrok shot found its way in off of Tavares.
The Leafs were forced to defend the lead with just five defencemen after the newly acquired Ilya Lyubushkin was knocked out of the game following a big hit from rookie bruiser Matt Rempe earlier in the contest. There was no penalty called on the play, but it looked like Rempe left his feet, and the hit didn’t go unnoticed by the Leafs and their own enforcer. After a couple of prior conversations that amounted to nothing, Rempe and Reaves finally dropped the gloves for a spirited tilt at centre ice. That’s now back-to-back games with a fight for Reaves, and he made sure to play it up to the crowd once again.
Ilya Samsonov was solid throughout, and he had to be even better than that with the Rangers pressing late in the third period. Looking to tie the game, star defender Adam Fox got an open look in the high slot, but Samsonov thwarted the grade-A chance with a highlight reel glove stop. It felt like that could be the game, but shortly after Marner put a long empty-net attempt off the post to force another defensive zone draw, Trocheck struck again to make it 3-3 with just over a minute remaining in regulation.
The two teams traded chances in overtime, with Samsonov topping his earlier stop on Fox with an absolute ten-beller of a save on Artemi Panarin. He was forced to make a number of difficult stops in the extra frame before ultimately outdoing Shesterkin in the shootout to secure the victory for the Leafs.
The Leafs weren’t perfect in this game, but they showed resilience against one of the league’s best teams, coming back from multiple deficits to earn two valuable points in the standings. With Boston’s loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday, the Leafs are now six points back of the Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division with two games in hand and two crucial head-to-head matchups coming up on Monday and Thursday.
It’s been an impressive run for the Leafs, now 13-3-0 in their last 16 games, and they’ve given themselves a chance to make some noise in the division if they can put together more performances like Saturday’s in the final weeks of the season.
 
Statistics from NHL.com

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