Jake Gardiner was the hero in overtime in the Leafs’ 2-1 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
Gardiner’s tally in the 3-on-3 extra session capped off an incredible shift by Mitch Marner, who not only had a scoring chance of his own just seconds earlier, but also forced a turnover, stripping defenceman Derrick Pouliot off the puck before finding Gardiner for the game-winner.
“I kind of walked around and got a shot,” Marner said, finishing the game with two assists to take the team lead with 15 in that category. “The guy carried it up and it hit the ref or something – it kind of had a lucky bounce for me. I got to the net and hoped someone was coming down and luckily [Gardiner] was.”
The Leafs were challenged early in the game when fleet-footed Carl Hagelin found his way past Connor Carrick, forcing the defenceman into taking a hooking infraction that resulted in a penalty shot. But Frederik Andersen, having had plenty of shootout experience in his team’s two previous games, denied Hagelin on the opportunity.
At the other end of the rink, Penguins starter Marc Andre Fleury left the game briefly after a sustaining a frightening accidental skate to the neck area from James van Riemsdyk. Luckily the goaltender missed only 7:15 of action during which Matt Murray tended the twine.
Pittsburgh opened the scoring on a power play. Sidney Crosby fed defender Justin Schultz at the point, and Schultz spotted Evgeni Malkin on the right wing, who finished the play into a gaping net. It was the 54th career point for both Crosby and Malkin against the Leafs, accomplished in 36 and 32 games respectively
Rookie defender Nikita Zaitsev registered his first career NHL goal and was also a defensive force over 20:40 of action. A pivotal moment in the game occurred in the third period with the Leafs killing off a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play. With Toronto pinned in their zone for much of the Pittsburgh man advantage, Zaitsev made a huge shot block against perennial Hart Trophy candidate and Leaf-killer, Crosby.
“We don’t tell them it’s just another win,” said coach Mike Babcock. “We tried to talk about – we showed a lot today about how detailed they were and how good they were. That’s what we’re trying to do. I think you should follow that up with feeling good about our team.”
Martin- Smith- Soshnikov
In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.