The Maple Leafs put a halt to their five-game losing slide, though the victory was far from convincing.
Toronto managed to squeak out a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Air Canada Centre to earn an important two points in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Although the home squad vaulted to a seemingly comfortable three-goal lead and held the Wings without a shot for the first 16:12 of the second period, the Leafs came precariously close to squandering yet another third period advantage.
“You don’t want to leave points on the table when you have the lead going into the third,” goaltender Frederik Andersen said. “It’s a lesson you’ve got to learn as soon as possible in this league. I think we’ve had a lot of experience with having the lead and I think it’s good to see we came out with two points today.”
Alexey Marchenko opened the scoring just 67 seconds into the game after Toronto took advantage of a bad turnover in Detroit zone by Darren Helm. It was the former Wings defenceman’s first goal in a Leafs uniform.
The Leafs went ahead by a pair when James van Riemsdyk converted in the power play, finishing a tic-tac-toe play with Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner. van Riemsdyk ended a personal 14-game goal drought with the tally.
After Nazem Kadri notched his 27th marker of the year, taking advantage of a listless Wings defence and beating Petr Mrazek on a rebound, the Leafs looked like they were in cruise control.
But with just under 38 seconds left in the middle frame , Gustav Nyqvist found himself uncovered behind the Toronto defenders, and foiled Andersen’s shutout bid with a backhand goal.
The Wings were sparked by the turn of events, and Nyqvist scored off the rush only 36 seconds into the third stanza to bring the visitors to within a goal.
Leafs fans could be forgiven for feeling a sense of dejavu, Mike Babcock’s squad having entered the game with seven blown two-goal, third period leads this season.
Nevertheless, Toronto prevented its opponent from getting the equalizer.
“You’re up 3-2, you’re at home with six minute or eight minutes left or whatever it is. Play the game,” Babcock said. “When you’re loose and driving you’re flying and on top of the other team and you look fast and you’re playing right. Then when you’re tight you look slow. That’s just the reality of being in the league and learning how to win and expecting to win every night and understanding what you’ve got to do to win.”
The game marked a milestone for long-time play-by-play announcer Joe Bowen who called his 3,000th Leafs game behind the microphone.