Daniel Winnik’s days as a Leaf may appear to be numbered. Saturday’s game at Air Canada Centre may be one of the last that the pending unrestricted free agent ever plays in a blue and white uniform.
Proving his marketability to all potential bidders gearing up for a playoff run, Winnik registered a perennial ‘Gordie Howe hat trick’ in Toronto’s 4-3 overtime win over Winnipeg.
The goal came off a deflection of a Korbinian Holzer point shot in the second period, evening the score 2-2 at the time. The assist was courtesy of a fantastic wraparound play from Nazem Kadri, who also had a superb game. Kadri’s effort squared the affair at 3-3, eventually forcing the extra session.
For good measure, Winnik’s fight was a tussle with Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot, rounding out the criteria made famous by Mr. Hockey.
The game itself was hardly a candidate for ESPN Classic archival material. Almost every stoppage was followed by a skirmish of shoving and stickwork, needlessly prolonging the event.
“I think they had the idea that they were going to come in and push us around and we were just going to take it,” Winnik said to reporters after the game. “But I thought we did a really good job meeting their push and everyone was physical, everyone was giving and taking hits and even at whistles it got chippy throughout the game.”
Jets coach Paul Maurice saw too many in-game scrums for his liking. “It was a sloppy, chippy kind of…not a lot of flow to that game,” he said.
The Leafs were in tough to end what had been a five-game losing streak, with all defeats in that stretch coming by one goal. Coming off their Friday night loss in Carolina, Toronto showed their propensity to surrender a goal immediately after scoring one. When Leo Komarov tallied shorthanded to open the scoring, Winnipeg came back 34 seconds later. After Winnik tied the game in the second period, the Jets were ahead once again within four minutes.
But the Leafs did manage to win for just the third time in 30 games this season when trailing after two periods. The overtime victory came off the stick of James van Riemsdyk, who ended a personal ten-game goal drought.
“I thought our team really raised our level of play tonight from the last couple of games so it was a fun game to play,” said Joffrey Lupul, who returned to the lineup after missing four games with a lower-body injury.
Jonathan Bernier made 31 saves for the win. Kadri earned praise for a thundering hit on Jets forward Blake Wheeler late in regulation.
For his brief time in a Leafs uniform, Winnik will be known as a tenacious penalty killer who didn’t score often, but played more than well enough to justify his salary ($1.3 million in 2014-15).
If only the team received a proportional dollar-value effort from all its players.
Game Notes: Prior to the game Hall of Famers Syl Apps and George Armstrong were honoured as the fifth and sixth members of Legends Row, joining Ted Kennedy, Darryl Sittler, Johnny Bower, and Borje Salming…Both Apps and Armstrong wore #10 for the Leafs and have had their numbers honoured accordingly…Apps was represented by his son Syl Apps Jr. who played 727 career NHL games with Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and the New York Rangers…Apps’ granddaughter Gillian has won three Olympic gold medals with Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team…Apps Jr. quipped to reporters: “Most of my career I was known as Syl Apps’s son, then I was known as Gillian’s dad!”…The statues for Salming, Apps and Armstrong will be unvelied this summer.