Erik Kallgren just had a week he’ll never forgot.
And it doesn’t appear to have fazed him one bit.
The calm, cool Kallgren made 34 saves Thursday as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 for the rookie goaltender’s second straight victory.
“It’s surreal,” he said. “But I just try to enjoy it.”
Called up from the American Hockey League on March 10 with struggling No. 1 option Jack Campbell out because of a rib injury, Kallgren made his second-ever NHL start in place of the scuffling Petr Mrazek after shutting out the Dallas Stars 4-0 with a 35-save performance Tuesday.
All the 25-year-old Swede has done in his short time on the job under an intense microscope is steady a Toronto crease that had been a major issue since Jan. 1 as the Leafs put in another solid defensive effort – this time against the team with the league’s third-best record.
“You would think it would be natural for him to get caught up in it and really excited ... I’m not sure if I’ve seen him smile yet,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of Kallgren with a grin of his own. “That just speaks to his demeanour. I think all of that plays into how this has gone for him. He’s not getting eaten up by the moment and the opportunity.
“He’s confident in himself, he’s always prepared, and he’s just trusting his abilities.”
Mitch Marner, Ilya Mikheyev and Ondrej Kase scored for Toronto (39-17-5), which was again minus the NHL’s goal leader as Auston Matthews wrapped up his two-game suspension.
Ethan Bear and Vincent Trocheck replied for Carolina (41-14-5). Frederik Andersen stopped 18 shots.
“We have to capitalize on our chances, which we didn’t, and then it magnifies the mistakes you make,” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “You’re going to make mistakes ... they capitalized and they got the win.”
Kallgren’s only goal against in his three appearances before Bear scored in Thursday’s third period was in relief of Mrazek in Toronto’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes on March 10 with the teams playing 3 on 3 in OT.
He finally got to Facetime with his parents Wednesday, and said they’re also trying to digest the last week.
“They’re really happy and support me as always,” said Kallgren, a seventh-round pick by Arizona in 2015. “It was a bit emotional. I haven’t seen them in like eight months.
“I miss them.”
Toronto, which lost 4-1 on the road to Carolina in October before beating the Hurricanes 4-3 at home last month, was under pressure early Tuesday as the visitors registered 11 of the game’s first 12 shots, but Kallgren was there at every turn, including a nice stop off Trocheck on a 2-on-1.
“Our guys, again tonight, defended really well,” Keefe said. “But we really needed him on couple chances early.”
The Leafs opened the scoring with 4:12 left in the period when Mikheyev beat a leaning Andersen on the shortside with a backhand for his 12th goal of the season.
It was yet another impressive night on the whole for Toronto’s third line of Mikheyev, David Kampf and Pierre Engvall – a defensively responsible trio down the lineup, the likes of which Keefe hasn’t had at his disposal in seasons past.
“We found something really nice,” he said. “I’m playing those guys as much as anybody at even strength. I have that level of confidence in them.”
Kallgren, who became the fourth goalie in franchise history to register a shutout in his first NHL start Tuesday, made an excellent pad stop on Brady Skjei early in the second.
“Those are game-changing or -saving type saves,” Keefe added. “They make a major difference, and they allow our team to find themselves and get going.
“He was terrific.”
Toronto then made it 2-0 when John Tavares tipped Timothy Liljegren’s stretch pass over Carolina defenceman Jaccob Slavin’s stick to spring Marner, and he made no mistake past Andersen’s blocker for the winger’s 24th.
“We’ve known each other for a long time,” Marner said of Andersen, who played five seasons with the Leafs before departing via free agency in July. “A lot of 2-on-1s against each other, I’m not really shooting a whole lot.
“I tried to mix things up.”
Bear ended Kallgren’s regulation shutout streak at 132 minutes 12 seconds on a shot through the five-hole for his fourth at 4:09 of the third to make it 2-1.
But Kase restored Toronto’s two-goal lead with his third in as many games at 7:20 when he took a sweet saucer pass from William Nylander to bury his 14th.
The Leafs took their league-leading 12th bench minor for too many men later in the period – no other team had more than nine coming into Thursday – but managed to kill it off.
That lack of attention to detail might have been the only thing Keefe, who added Toronto got away with another sequence with six skaters earlier in the period, didn’t like about his team’s showing.
“Players have got to be more aware,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job as coaches to make them aware and give them no choice in the matter.
“It’s unacceptable. It’s now reached a point of embarrassment ... enough is enough.”
The Hurricanes pulled Andersen late, but Kallgren and some desperate defending kept them at bay before Trocheck scored his 16th, with 3.6 seconds left.
It was a consolation goal that did little to dampen Toronto’s mood or impact Kallgren’s demeanour.
“He’s been even-keel all the way through this,” Keefe said. “It’s not easy to do, and it’s even more difficult in this city – two home games and all of that.
“He’s been impressive.”
The Leafs sported their green and white Toronto St. Pats jerseys – a nod to the franchise’s moniker from 1919 through 1927 – on St. Patrick’s Day, while the Hurricanes donned their home reds. ... Matthews is eligible to return to Toronto’s lineup Saturday in Nashville. ... Toronto winger Wayne Simmonds was a healthy scratch for the second straight game.