The game billed as Auston Matthews vs. Patrik Laine, The Sequel lived up to its expectations, and then some.
The first two picks at the 2016 NHL Draft, Matthews had three assists and Laine scored twice in the Leafs’ 5-4 win over Winnipeg at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday in a tilt that had a bit of everything. Goals. Fights. Chippiness. And, overtime.
It took just 62 seconds for Toronto to open the scoring. Leo Komarov, from a bad angle, fired a shot that eluded a surprised Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. Then, the rookies started taking control of the game.
Laine sniped a one-timer past Frederik Andersen to equal the score. Although the Jets went ahead by a goal before the first period was over, Toronto pulled even when Josh Leivo won a battle at the left wing boards and fed a pass to Nazem Kadri, who beat Hellebuyck with a sensational backhand deke, at 15:52 of the middle frame.
The seesaw affair continued. Nik Ehlers deflected Josh Morrisey’s point shot just over a minute-and-a-half later to reclaim the lead for Winnipeg. Not to be outdone, William Nylander – showing his daft stickhandling – brought the puck down the right side on a power play, feeding Komarov for the Finn’s second goal of the game.
But Komarov’s countryman Laine put his team up once again with a one-timer from the point with just 2.3 seconds on the clock in the second period. A skirmish quickly ensued, Matt Martin scrapping with Dustin Byfuglien and freshmen Leivo and Laine squaring off.
In the third period, the Leafs evened the score – on the power play – when Matthews shot wide of the net and Nylander pounced on the rebound off the end boards for a one-timer.
“We worked on that one in practice at the beginning of the year just for fun,” Nylander later said. “It ended up working out there. I thought I was going to miss the net, I had so much spin on the puck, but it was a great play.”
Toronto killed off a late penalty to Matthews that carried into overtime, then celebrated ecstatically after Jake Gardiner converted on a 2-on-1 at 2:29 of the extra session.
“It was one of those games where we’re on top of it lots, so we knew we would get our chances if we just stayed with it,” coach Mike Babcock said.
The Leafs lost defenceman Connor Carrick in the first period with what is deemed to be an upper body injury.