It wasn’t always pretty, but the Toronto Maple Leafs found a way back into the win column on Friday.
And they relied on three big goals from unlikely sources to do so.
Martin Marincin, Zach Hyman and Leo Komarov all scored their first goals of the season in the third period as the Leafs rallied from a goal down twice to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 6-3. It was a big bounce-back effort after Toronto’s 7-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at home three days earlier, and it improved the Leafs’ record to 4-1-0 in their best five-game stretch of the season.
They’re now 6-5-3 on the year – one point ahead of the Flyers and two points out of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot.
“I think the most important thing is we went into that third period and battled and found our game,” said Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly, who led the way with a goal and three assists for a career-high four points. “We weren’t happy after Tuesday. We didn’t have a very good taste in our mouth. We’re happy to bounce back and play really strong.”
Strong is a stretch. This was an uneven game, even though the result was good for Toronto. In fact, Leafs coach Mike Babcock didn’t like what he saw through the game’s first half to the extent that he started mixing and matching lines again, just as he had against the Kings in a lost cause.
This time, however, he started to get results. Curiously, the Leafs’ turnaround – first from down 2-1 (five minutes into the first) and then down 3-2 and heavily outshot (27-14) through 40 minutes – came with Auston Matthews playing with Hyman and Connor Brown on a new-look rookie trio. All three were crashing the net on the go-ahead goal, and after Matthews hit the crossbar, Hyman banged in the puck in the crease.
It was only Matthews’s second point in the last eight games after he had racked up 10 in his first six NHL games. But Babcock was encouraged by what he saw of his prized rookie’s play in his own end.
“I thought Matthews played really well tonight without the puck,” Babcock said. “I thought he was good down low, and I thought he competed hard. He gets tons of chances every night. Just keep playing well and you’ll fill the net.”
The game didn’t turn into a romp until late. The Leafs piled up four unanswered goals in a 12-minute stretch in the third period, converting a 3-2 deficit into the team’s first late comeback of the year.
Marincin started that rally with a rare tally – a bomb from the point – to tie the game at 3-3 before Hyman, Komarov (on a shorthanded breakaway) and Mitch Marner (on a weak shot that Flyers netminder Steve Mason whiffed on) ran up the score.
It was a good display of the Leafs’ new-found offensive depth allowing them to quickly turn a game around, a big change from last season when Toronto was one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL.
“We played like crap in the third period,” was how Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds – a Toronto native who had two of the Philadelphia goals – put it afterward.
Despite the win, Babcock hinted at making more changes for Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh. He said his plan is to use his three little-used spares against the defending Stanley Cup champs, giving defenceman Frank Corrado his first game of the season, and centre Peter Holland and defenceman Matt Hunwick their seventh.
It’s unknown who will sit, although Friday’s game was a tough one possession-wise for depth players like Ben Smith, Matt Martin and Roman Polak.
“I haven’t decided 100 per cent, but I think that’s what we’re going to do,” Babcock said of getting in his scratches. “Just for fresher bodies.”Report Typo/Error