Matthews nets 69th goal but the Maple Leafs fall 5-4 to the Red Wings

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Joseph Zita
13 days ago
On the final Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada of the 2023-24 regular season, the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted their original six rivals, the Detroit Red Wings, for the third and final meeting this season, with both teams playing the remaining games for two different reasons.

First period:

Entering the final Saturday night of the regular season, there were many storylines. First, Toronto was trailing Florida for second in the Atlantic division. But during the Maple Leafs’ game, the Panthers won in overtime, locking up home-ice advantage in round one, meaning Toronto will officially begin on the road. So, the only thing Toronto is playing for is to lock up the third spot in the division rather than falling to the wild card spot unless that is what they’re comfortable with.
The other two storylines were Auston Matthews chasing 70 goals after scoring his 67th and 68th against the Devils two nights prior and Detroit fighting for their playoff lives, needing every possible point for them to enter the playoffs.
With that said, it was clear who the more desperate team was likely to be in this contest, given Detroit needed as many points as possible to clinch a playoff spot. However, Toronto was the one to open the scoring off a power play goal (*finally*), thanks to Mitch Marner finishing off a pretty passing play for his 26th goal of the season.
The reason the Maple Leafs were on the power play roughly eight minutes into the game was due to a dirty hit from behind on Timothy Liljegren by Detroit’s Joe Veleno, who shockingly only served a two-minute minor, which is incredibly ridiculous, given the visual of Liljegren going head first into the boards awkwardly.
Although it should’ve been a five-minute major, Toronto capitalized on the opportunity and made them pay for it, taking the 1-0 lead just before the midway point of the frame. Unfortunately, this is where it fell apart for Toronto and Ilya Samsonov.
In the span of 9:39, roughly a minute and a half following the Marner power play goal, Detroit scored four goals on Ilya Samsonov, thanks to bad defending by the home side and some shaky goaltending from Samsonov, who allowed six goals on 20 shots against the Devils two nights before last night’s game.
Alex DeBrincat x2, Simon Edvindsson, and David Perron were the goal scorers for the Red Wings, the third goal coming on the power play after Samsonov gave up a juicy rebound. It’s unfair to blame Samsonov for everything in the first period because the Maple Leafs certainly did not look their best defensively, but some of the goals allowed by the 26-year-old were ones he probably wants back. After the first period, Samsonov had allowed ten goals on the last 33 shots he had faced.
Toronto entered the first intermission down 4-1 and outshot 13-6.

Second period:

Trailing 4-1 entering the middle frame, Toronto had two options: mail it in, have the rest of the weekend off and look forward to their Tuesday night game against the Florida Panthers or make this game intriguing by having a much better period. The Maple Leafs decided to go with the second option.
Although they didn’t start the middle period off that well, getting outshot 3-1 by the Red Wings through the first little bit, a simple backcheck from the third-line center started an incredible period for the home team. Pontus Holmberg skated back to the defensive zone hard and forced a turnover, which gave the Maple Leafs the puck going the other way. Nick Robertson skated into the offensive zone and ripped his 14th goal of the season past James Reimer, cutting into the deficit with a ton of time left in the game.
Almost immediately following Robertson’s tally, Simon Benoit was hit in the face by Patrick Kane’s stick, drawing blood and giving his team a massive four-minute power play midway through the period.
It didn’t take Toronto long to score on their first attempt back in the first period, but this time, it took them almost the entire first two minutes to find the back of the net again. Morgan Rielly fed Mitch Marner the puck, who sent a tape-to-tape pass cross-seam to Auston Matthews, and he did not miss from there, scoring his 69th goal of the season, getting within one goal with roughly 30 minutes to go.
Suddenly, a 4-1 deficit is now 4-3 with a lot of hockey left. With Matthews finding the back of the net before the first two minutes concluded, the Maple Leafs had a full two minutes to work with on the second part of the double minor. Unfortunately, despite peppering Reimer with nine shots, they were only rewarded with a single goal on the man advantage.
It was no secret that the first 20 minutes were not that impressive from Toronto. But the middle period quickly changed, swinging all the momentum in Toronto’s favour after two goals and outplaying the road team in all three zones. The scoring chances were coming in bunches, and if it wasn’t for a couple of huge saves from Reimer, this game could’ve been 6-4 Toronto quickly.
Luckily, with roughly three minutes to go in the frame on a delayed penalty, Mitch Marner found a wide-open John Tavares in front of the net, and the captain deposited his 27th goal of the season into the net past Reimer, tying the game at four.
After getting outshot 13-6 in the first 20 minutes and 3-1 in the early going in this period, Toronto ended the second frame outshooting Detroit 14-6 after a three-goal performance to get back in the game.
Toronto entered the second intermission tied 4-4 and outshooting Detroit 20-19.

Third period:

After 40 minutes of play, it was a game with two different stretches of momentum. The first 20 minutes was all Detroit, scoring four consecutive goals on 13 shots. The following 20 minutes was all Toronto, scoring three straight goals on 14 shots, tying the game at four heading into the third period.
The final 20 minutes had a feeling of “next goal wins.” After combining for eight goals through the first two periods, neither coach was probably too pleased heading into the final 20. But with the Red Wings fighting for their playoff lives and the Maple Leafs wanting to tighten up defensively with playoffs right around the corner, the third frame had the potential to feature one or two or, hey, maybe even zero goals.
Well, after scoring eight goals on a combined 39 shots through the first two periods, Toronto and Detroit combined for zero goals on a combined 28 shots in the final period because hockey makes sense. But despite the zero goals in the period for both teams, it wasn’t for a lack of trying, that’s for sure. Both teams had some great looks on both goalies to take the lead, but neither goaltender wanted to be the guy to allow the next goal in the hockey game.
Fast forward to the 17:15 mark of the period, Patrick Kane was whistled for high-sticking Max Domi, sending him to the penalty box for the second time in the game. Unfortunately, after scoring two power-play goals on their first three attempts, Toronto couldn’t find the back of the net with the late man advantage, keeping the game evened at four with less than a minute to go in regulation. Then, Domi was whistled for a tripping penalty on Alex DeBrincat in the neutral zone with 10 seconds left on the clock, and you could tell that was a penalty that would end with the puck in the back of Toronto’s net with this game going to overtime.

Overtime period:

It’s not ideal to kill a penalty in overtime, especially when you’re down to three players compared to your opponent’s four. But that was the task Toronto was given to begin the overtime period after Domi was sitting in the box for his tripping minor.
It was great to see the Maple Leafs rally back from 4-1 down to tie the game heading into the third period. But as soon as overtime started, Sheldon Keefe threw out T.J. Brodie, Simon Benoit, and David Kampf to kill off the Domi penalty, and it was a matter of time until the puck was behind Samsonov.
With a chance to clear the puck around the boards and out of the zone, Brodie shot it into the corner, which made its way to the point. They remained in the offensive zone, and within seconds, Patrick Kane fed Dylan Larkin in front of the net for an easy tap-in for the overtime winner. The replay wasn’t too kind to Brodie, who is shown not making much of an effort to defend Larkin. If he tied Larkin’s stick up or moved him out of the way a bit, that likely doesn’t go in, and Detroit is probably still working the puck around.
Despite the loss, Toronto still picked up a point in the standings to improve to 102 points with two games left on the schedule. But given the Lightning’s regulation loss to the Capitals before the conclusion of the Maple Leafs – Red Wings game, Toronto locked in the third spot in the division and will take on Boston (109 points with two games left) or Florida (108 points with one game left).

Who stood out:

It was a very underwhelming first period for Toronto last night. Not many players looked all that engaged, which put them in a big hole early on. But Toronto did what we’ve seen them do plenty of times this season: erase multi-goal deficits. Although the result at the end was a loss in overtime, coming off a power play goal, the comeback from the Maple Leafs was impressive, and there were a few players to highlight for said comeback.
Mitch Marner, who played in his fifth game back since returning from injury, collected three points last night, giving him eight points (one goal and seven assists) in that span. He opened the scoring in the game with his 26th of the season, the first since March 7th when he was injured against Boston, and the two other points were primary assists on the Matthews and Tavares goal, which helped complete the three-goal comeback.
There were plenty of power plays in the game last night, along with the departure of Bobby McMann, who left the game with an apparent injury, which prevented Toronto from playing as much at five-on-five as possible. But when they did, Keefe rolled out a line he debuted last game for over five minutes at five-on-five, which was Nylander-Tavares-Marner, who impressed in limited action. Last night, in limited action again, playing only 5:06 together, they did generate an xGF% of 82.3%, according to Moneypuck.com.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t repeat history by scoring two goals on home ice against the Detroit Red Wings to hit a milestone in goals like he did when he scored goals 59 and 60 in 2021-22. But Auston Matthews did inch closer to 70 after scoring his 69th goal in the second period on the power play. And, if it wasn’t for a hit crossbar in the first period (his 20th of the season), among other saves from James Reimer, the 26-year-old would have hit 70 last night in front of the home fans.
You can catch the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game on Tuesday night when they close out their regular season on a two-game road trip, beginning in Florida against the Panthers. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 pm ET/4:30 pm PT.

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