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Toronto falls to 1-4-1 in their last six as Hurricanes defeat the Maple Leafs 3-2

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Joseph Zita
1 month ago
It was an ugly 6-5 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night for the Toronto Maple Leafs. But they couldn’t think about it too much because they had to shift focus to the Carolina Hurricanes, who they hosted last night to close out 2023 and the back-to-back.
A couple hours before puck drop, Sheldon Keefe spoke to the media and confirmed that David Kampf would be a healthy scratch, likely due to his turnover that led to the Blue Jackets’ tying goal in the third period.

First period:

Last night was not only the first meeting between the Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes this season, but it was the return of Michael Bunting. So, in typical Toronto Maple Leafs fashion, the former Leaf scored, right? Right. With an early power play chance for the Hurricanes, Bunting banged home his eighth of the season to give his new club the 1-0 lead just 2:24 into the game.
After falling behind 1-0 two and a half minutes into the game, Toronto struggled to generate a shot on the Hurricanes’ net three or four minutes into the period. However, I guess the Bunting goal woke them up because they started to play more in the Hurricanes zone. They were awarded a power play as Dmitry Orlov was called for slashing but couldn’t do much with it, and the game remained 1-0.
Both teams traded chances, and each came close to scoring on multiple occasions. But a little puck luck from the hockey gods was against scoring, and Toronto entered the first intermission down 1-0 despite outshooting Carolina 11-9. According to Naturalstattrick.com, Toronto had an advantage in high-danger chances 4-1 and scoring chances 7-6.

Second period:

From the Bunting goal early in the first period onward, offence was tough to generate for both teams, and that was a similar theme in the second period. Both Toronto and Carolina exchanged chances, but nothing extremely high-danger, outside of a couple of looks from Toronto that should’ve ended up in the net.
The Maple Leafs pushed for the tying goal in the second frame, but Pytor Kochetkov came up with a couple of big stops for his club. Toronto got on the power play again, but similar to their first man advantage, they couldn’t find the back of the net. However, it was the opposite for Carolina, as they headed to their second power play just over midway through the period, and less than 15 seconds into the power play, Seth Jarvis tucked his 13th of the season past Jones’ legs to double their lead.
That goal gave Carolina two power-play goals on two attempts. Meanwhile, Toronto was o-for-2 on their power plays. So, the story up to this point in the game was special teams, and given the trend of special teams, it didn’t get easier when Auston Matthews got whistled for tripping with 50 seconds to go in the period, sending him to the penalty box for the first time this season.
Toronto headed into the second intermission down 2-0 and outshooting Carolina 21-20 but leading 6-4 in high-danger chances and 14-13 in scoring chances.

Third period:

With the Maple Leafs down 2-0 entering the third period, it was the fourth time they had been in that situation. However, they scored in those three other games to prevent getting shut out for the first time since November 20, 2021, when they lost 2-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Well, it took Timothy Liljegren just 4:16 into the final period of regulation to not only get his team on the board and get within a goal but also get his first of the season as he riffled a shot over Kochetkov’s shoulder after a beautiful pass from Max Domi.
Liljegren got Scotiabank Arena on its feet with that tally, but Toronto had a lot more work to do in the third period if they wanted to tie the game up and come away with a comeback win. As I mentioned above, offence was challenging for both teams for most of the game, and with some puck luck against Toronto on some net-front scrambles, they needed to dominate the final period of regulation to win this tight game.
The Maple Leafs did come close to scoring and tying the game, as they did multiple times last night, but between Kochetkov coming up big for his team and the puck just not finding its way past the goal line, it was a frustrating game to watch for fans, but especially to play for the players.
Sheldon Keefe elected to pull Martin Jones for the extra attacker down by one, and although the Hurricanes came close to icing the game with the goalie out, Tyler Bertuzzi slid in the way and blocked the shot, keeping Toronto’s hopes alive. Unfortunately, with less than a minute to go in the game, Mitch Marner forced a pass to William Nylander, and Sebastian Aho read it like a book. The Finnish star buried his 15th of the season into the vacant net to give his team the 3-1 lead.
With the game pretty much over, Nick Robertson scored his fifth of the season and second in as many nights to cut the deficit in half with under ten seconds to go in the game.

Who stood out:

It was a frustrating game to watch for many reasons. Despite having shaky goaltending this season like Toronto, Carolina has been known for being good defensively for the last handful of years, and last night, they showed that ability. They limited Toronto to just 27 shots (six in the third period) and didn’t give them any looks on their power plays. The Maple Leafs went 0-for-3 on the man advantage, while the Hurricanes went 2-for-4 on their opportunities, and that’s pretty much where the game was won and lost.
For those who stood out in last night’s loss, I didn’t think anyone stood out to me. There were times when players had some good looks on the net but couldn’t score, but that was the story all night for Toronto. Carolina gave up some high-danger chances, but they also did a terrific job collapsing down low, blocking shots and getting their sticks in lanes to break up shot attempts and pass attempts.
However, two members of the third line had noticeable nights on the scoresheet. Robertson scored in consecutive games, and Domi tallied two assists, improving his point total to 21 on the season and giving him three points in his last two games.
You can catch the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings when they head out on their annual California trip. Puck drop is scheduled for 10:30 pm ET/7:30 pm PT.
(Stats from Hockey-Reference.com)

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