Maple Leafs Score Big Playoff-Type Win Against Hurricanes
A Playoff Feeling
The Maple Leafs won a playoff game on Friday night. OK, so the St. Patrick’s Day match will go down as the Leafs’ 68th game of the 2022-23 regular season, with the post-season Stanley Cup tournament still a month away. Still, the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Arena had that feel, and the Leafs, clad in green and white St. Pats uniforms, combined several important elements to win 5-2.
A Positive Record
The victory gave the Leafs a 2-1-1 record in their four-game home stand, and they were hustling out of the dressing room to get to the airport to fly to Ottawa. They’ll play the Senators in the nation’s capital on Saturday night, and likely be buoyed by their record in the second game of back-to-backs, which comes in at a crisp 6-3-1.
The Leafs knew that the Hurricanes, in their only visit to Toronto, are a club that loves to put a lot at the net from all areas of the offensive zone. At five-on-five, Carolina nearly had two shot attempts to each one by the Leafs, finishing with 70 to the Leafs’ 36. That could be misleading, however, as the Leafs’ defencemen did a fine job in front of goalie Ilya Samsonov, who had another sharp performance in net. He’s now 18-2-2 at home.
“I thought the guys boxed out well,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “The guys defended well. They were in lanes, we blocked some shots, discouraged a few. Did enough to keep them away from the net. I thought we moved the puck really well coming out of our end, which has been an issue for us in recent games. We’re playing against a team that’s maybe the hardest in the league to come out of your zone against.”
Offensive Contributions Matter
Not often does Zach Aston-Reese score two goals in a game. In fact, it happened just three times in his previous 292 NHL games, and not since Oct. 13, 2019, when he was playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins. After going 14 games without a goal, Aston-Reese tipped an Erik Gustafsson shot past goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov early in the first period and converted a terrific pass from Sam Lafferty in the second. Felt good for the rest of the team too. The Leafs have a group of bottom-six forwards that brings hard work every night, and with the additions of Lafferty and Noel Acciari, the lines have a bit more offensive flair than they did before.
A Solid Defense
The Leafs might have bent a few times under the Hurricanes’ pressure, but as some defensive coordinators in football like to say, they didn’t break. A perfect three-for-three on the penalty kill was key. The Leafs couldn’t put it all together in a tight game against Colorado some 48 hours earlier, losing 2-1 in a shootout. They didn’t have similar issues on Friday.
“This is huge win for us. A hard game for us. A really dangerous team off the rush. We played a great game. Played simple in the defensive zone and got five goals in the offensive zone. We need to stay focused. (Saturday) is a hard game against Ottawa. Just keep working hard,” said Auston Matthews.
A Phenomenal Talent
“He’s phenomenal. Better than I expected. We all knew he was a talent, we knew he was a great player. But just to see how he prepares, his willingness to get better every day. Met him once before, played against him way back in the day. We’ve become good friends. Our sons play on the same hockey team. He’s a great Hurricane. I wish we could have had him for 20 years. But we’ll take him as long as he can hang in there.”