By all accounts, the Leafs deserved to lose Thursday’s game against the New York Rangers by a wide margin.
Instead, Fredrik Andersen was spectacular in a 37-save performance, salvaging a point for Toronto in a 2-1 shootout loss.
From the moment early in the first period when Andersen made back-to-back saves on Blueshirts linemates Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello, it was evident that the Leafs goalie was psychologically, and physically, locked into a potentially game-stealing rhythm.
“The best thing about tonight is Freddie was Freddie and we need him to be like that,” coach Mike Babcock said. “That was outstanding. I thought he was a star.”
Andersen made his best stop of the game moving from his right to his left to deny Michael Grabner on a shorthanded chance. Toronto fans couldn’t help but smirk at Grabner showcasing the same tendency to make life easier for goalies as he did during his Leafs playing days, shooting right into Andersen’s left pad while staring at an open net.
At the other end of the rink, Henrik Lundqvist dueled Andersen save for save. Both netminders came up huge in the dying moments of the 3-on-3 overtime session during which no fewer than three breakaways were exchanged.
Connor Brown opened the scoring in the first period, finding the puck on the doorstep after Jake Gardiner’s point shot got through traffic.
The only other player to tally in regulation was Rangers forward JT Miller, the beneficiary of a centring pass from Kevin Hayes after the puck ricocheted off the end boards behind the Leafs goal.
Mika Zibanejad had the shootout winner. Toronto’s record dropped to a woeful 1-7 in games decided beyond the 65th minute.
The subpar ice conditions at Air Canada Centre hampered both teams’ ability to manoeuvre the puck. Auston Matthews called the ice ‘pretty bad’, and Brown appeared to have a clear cut breakaway chance in the second period, but couldn’t find the handle.
“It was a little bit slushy, (The puck) was bouncing towards the end of the period,” Brown said.
The game featured the debut of Leafs defenceman Alexey Marchenko. While guilty of at least two turnovers, Marchenko nonetheless had a solid first period, finding Gardiner on the point on the shot that led to Toronto’s only goal.