Matthews, Tavares each score twice but the Devils edge the Maple Leafs 6-5

Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Joseph Zita
15 days ago
For the third time in just over two weeks and the second time in two days, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New Jersey Devils played one another as both teams closed out their home and home last night at Scotiabank Arena.

First period:

On Tuesday night, it took roughly nine minutes for the opening goal. Last night, it took 18 seconds as the second line of the Maple Leafs went to work early after John Tavares slipped his 25th goal of the season past Jake Allen.
If you watched the broadcast after the Tavares goal, you might’ve seen some fans still finding their seats. That’s how fast it took Toronto to score. However, the early lead for the Maple Leafs would only last 21 seconds after an innocent-looking play ended up with the puck behind Ilya Samsonov and in the Toronto net. The pairing of T.J. Brodie and Joel Edmundson couldn’t clear the puck, and Auston Matthews was in front of the net trying to dig it out, but Erik Haula pounced on the puck and beat Samsonov for his 16th goal of the season, tying the game back up less than a minute into the game.
With two goals on a combined four shots in quick succession from either side, this felt like the game had the makings of a potential shootout, which wouldn’t be a thing either coach would be fond of. Luckily for the goalies, they settled into the game and made the next handful of stops. However, unfortunately for the Devils, it took Auston Matthews six minutes after the Devils tying goal to get a goal, giving him 67 on the season after he ripped a shot past Jake Allen off a sweet feed from Max Domi.
Despite giving up a goal 20 seconds after taking the lead 18 seconds into the game, the top line from the Maple Leafs responded with a better shift than their first one of the game. However, similarly to the Tavares goal to give Toronto a one-goal lead, the Matthews goal to give the home side the 2-1 lead only lasted under two minutes after Mark Giordano turned the puck over in front of his net to Nolan Foote, who undressed Ilya Samsonov for his first goal of the season because, of course.
Four goals in the first eight minutes is not what either head coach wanted to see, especially Sheldon Keefe, whose team is headed to the playoffs at the end of next week. And, for his team, things didn’t get better. Max Domi was whistled for slashing, which sent the Devils to their first power play of the game. After going on a great run on the penalty kill, the Maple Leafs allowed Timo Meier to score his 26th goal of the season roughly a minute into the man advantage after Samsonov was slow to react to the pass. Suddenly, a 1-0 and 2-1 lead is now a 3-2 deficit with eight minutes left in the first frame.
Lost in all the goal scoring, Toronto thought they had taken the 3-2 lead before the Meier goal after Nick Robertson undressed Jake Allen in tight. But upon further review, Robertson was offside, wiping away his 14th goal of the season.
Toronto entered the first intermission down 3-2 despite outshooting New Jersey 12-7.

Second period:

After 20 minutes of play, this game truthfully had the feel of the first meeting of the season between these teams when Toronto had a bunch of looks on Jake Allen and the Maple Leafs, limiting the Devils to shots, would allow them to score based on defensive breakdowns and the goalie not making saves. The first two Devils’ goals were off lazy defensive plays and a turnover. Their third goal was a late read from Samsonov, who got beat. Luckily for the Maple Leafs, at the start of the second period, they held the opposition without a shot for the first five minutes while testing Jake Allen with a small handful of scoring chances.
Allen continued to do what he had been doing for his team the last two weeks against Toronto: make spectacular saves. However, the Maple Leafs kept pushing, and sooner or later, a third puck was going to beat Allen. Fortunately, it was Auston Matthews, who’s on the hunt for 70 goals. He redirected a Domi pass past Allen, tying the game at three roughly eight minutes into the frame.
After tying the game back up just before the midway point of the period and getting the fans at Scotiabank Arena back on their feet, the fourth line of the Maple Leafs followed the footsteps of the top line and scored a goal of their own. Matthew Knies took a hit in the corner, which kept the puck below the goal line. The puck worked its way to the other side of the ice, and Connor Dewar fed David Kampf in front of the net with a slick pass, and the 29-year-old pulled off a quick backhand, forehand move to beat Allen, giving his team the 4-3 lead.
Up to this point in the middle frame, Toronto was outplaying New Jersey. They regained their one-goal lead and were outshooting them by a wide margin, in the period and overall, but they couldn’t find another tally to go ahead by two before the end of the period. There was an opportunity for Toronto in the offensive zone with eight minutes to go, but Domi and rookie Simon Nemec dropped the gloves seconds after Nemec and Matthews were going at it along the boards, preventing any chance at a scoring opportunity.
New Jersey received a power play after Domi was handed an instigator penalty for initiating the fight. Fortunately, the penalty kill rebounded and kept the road team off the scoreboard. But with a little over a minute to go in the period, T.J. Brodie was sent to the box for hooking Jesper Bratt, and for the third time in the game, the Devils were headed to the man advantage. With 15 seconds left, on an offensive zone face-off, Timo Meier walked into the loose puck and wired his 27th goal of the season – second of the night – past Samsonov, tying the game at four heading into the final period.
Toronto entered the second intermission tied 4-4 despite holding a 22-13 shot advantage.

Third period:

I’ve said it plenty of times, and I’m sure others have also. Giving up goals at the start and end of periods is deflating. After allowing Timo Meier to snap his second of the night past Samsonov, tying the game heading into the intermission, it stung the Maple Leafs. Despite the game being tied at four and Toronto outplaying New Jersey for the third time this season, they were one mistake away from trailing the game again. Unfortunately, they were headed to the penalty kill for the fourth time after Matthews took Luke Hughes down behind the Devils’ net. After a solid stretch killing off penalties, Toronto’s penalty kill had allowed four power-play goals in their last 11 periods, and the trend continued after Jesper Bratt snuck his 26th goal of the season past Samsonov along the ice.
Suddenly, Toronto’s penalty kill was 1-for-4. When you’re not killing penalties, you better hope you’re getting goals on the power play. But for Toronto, they’ve struggled in that department for over a month, and it’s cost them some games during that span. Now, they were facing a one-goal deficit. But it’s not like it was the first time. They erased the Devils’ 3-2 lead, and roughly four minutes after Bratt’s goal, Tavares tied the game back up with his 26th goal of the season and second of the night, getting the fans back on their feet with a 5-5 score.
Things felt great. Although the defence and goaltending had been rough pretty much all night, the offence came clutch for the team and tied the game up with under five minutes to go. All they had to do was drain out the clock and take this thing to overtime. Well, they couldn’t. With slightly over a minute to go, Bratt beat Joel Edmundson along the wall, cut inside, and snapped his 27th goal of the season and second of the night past Samsonov, completing a rough night for the Maple Leafs away from the puck.
Sheldon Keefe pulled the goalie for the extra attacker, and Toronto even got a late power play after Ondrej Palat was whistled for tripping. But Jake Allen did his best Dominik Hasek impression and kept the puck out of the net, securing the 6-5 win for the Devils.

Who stood out:

There were some things to like from last night’s game, but overall, it looked similar to the first meeting this season between these two teams. Toronto had loads of chances to score on Jake Allen and settled for four goals, which should win you most games, but when the defence and goaltending aren’t up to par, it may not be enough. I won’t go into much detail about how the defence, goaltending, and special teams weren’t at their strongest because if you watched the game last night, it was evident they all struggled, and allowing three power-play goals ultimately lost them the game, and potentially home ice advantage, pending the final two games for the Panthers and three for the Maple Leafs.
On the bright side, Auston Matthews continued his pursuit of 70 goals, scoring goals 67 and 68 against the Devils. He entered last night’s game with 16 career goals in 17 career games and now finishes this season with 18 goals in 18 games, which is wild. But it wasn’t just Matthews that looked good again. His line continues to impress and do incredible things with the puck, and I know Mitch Marner and Matthews work like magic together, but it’s getting harder and harder to break these three guys up.
According to Moneypuck.com, the top-line played 9:26 at five-on-five, won the shot attempt battle 14-8, outshot the opposition 9-5, and were an even 2-2 in goals. It wasn’t the best night at keeping the puck out of their net, but it was another night of productive chances from this trio. They generated an xGF% of 66.2%.
At times during the game, Sheldon Keefe loaded a line that consisted of Marner, Tavares, and Nylander. Although they didn’t play a ton together, they sure as well outplayed the Devils in their limited minutes. In just 3:52 of ice time, they won the shot attempt battle 14-1 and outshot the Devils 3-0, which is crazy given the shot attempts they had. Despite no goal, this might give Keefe and the coaching staff another option for a potential line come playoff time.
In his fourth game back, Mitch Marner recorded a two-assist night to give him five assists since returning from his high-ankle sprain. With his two assists last night, he reached the 80-point mark for the third consecutive season and fourth time in his career. It’s still wild to think this guy has yet to record a 100-point season. The closest he’s gotten was 94 points in 82 games in 2018-19, 97 points in 72 games in 2021-22, and 99 points in 80 games last season. Over an 82-game pace, Marner would have 101 points this season.
You can catch the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game on Saturday night when they take on the Detroit Red Wings in their last home game of the regular season. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT.
(Stats from hockey-reference.com)

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