The Leafs were strong for, oh about 20 minutes of action on Friday night in Carolina.
But thanks to Frederik Andersen, Toronto’s short-term effort was still good enough for the victory, a narrow 5-4 win.
Andersen made 43 saves, several of which were high-quality scoring chances by the Hurricanes. Carolina, on the strength of two power plays in the first period, dominated the shot counter 14-4 in the opening frame, but Andersen turned away all challengers included a frustrated Teuvo Teravainen and Victor Rask.
Toronto came out firing on all cylinders in the second period, and vaulted to a 3-0 lead after getting contributions from unlikely sources. Zach Hyman, Josh Leivo and Ron Hainsey each found the net to stake a comfortable cushion for Andersen.
The teams exchanged goals before the buzzer. After Derek Ryan scored the Hurricanes’ first goal, James van Riemsdyk used his brother Trevor – a Carolina defenceman – as a screen to beat Cam Ward.
Ward was replaced by Scott Darling to begin the third period. Jordan Staal brought Carolina closer before Patrick Marleau responded for the Leafs on a power play.
The Leafs’ penchant for playing to protect the lead once again reared its ugly head, with almost disastrous results for Mike Babcock’s squad. Elias Lindholm brought the Hurricanes to within a goal. Then, after an Auston Matthews turnover, Noah Hanifin beat Andersen from just inside the blueline, the only blemish in what was an otherwise brilliant outing for Andersen.
Despite having Darling on the bench for a sixth skater, the Hurricanes couldn’t get the equalizer after heavy pressure in the Leafs zone. Carolina had 20 shots in the third period alone.
“Some nights they’re ugly,” Babcock said to reporters after the game. “[Detroit general manager] Kenny Holland always used to say it’ll be a Picasso in the morning when you look at the standings. That’s what it is. They were quicker and jumped better than us. Obviously, we scored some good goals and some timely goals, but Freddie was the main event for sure.”