The Toronto Maple Leafs may have worn their green and white Toronto St. Pats uniforms as a salute to St. Patrick’s Day but the luck of the Irish took a while to get to them.
It got there by the third period, though, as the Leafs completed a comeback from a three-goal Philadelphia Flyers lead to score five unanswered goals for a 7-6 win on Friday night. Auston Matthews scored the go-ahead goal with five minutes left in the third period and added what stood up as the winner 2 1/2 minutes later. But equal thanks must go to William Nylander.
It was Nylander’s second effort on the sixth goal that made the difference. He managed to keep the puck behind the Flyers net with a defenceman hanging on to him and got it to Matthews in front of the net.
Once again, the Leafs were coughing up goals in bunches but the difference on Friday night was they outplayed the Flyers by a large margin. However, it seemed every time the Leafs made a mistake or the Flyers were around the net, it didn’t take long for the puck to find its way behind goaltender Frederik Andersen, who finished a bad week with another sub-par performance.
“I thought the guys did a heck of a job for Freddy [Andersen],” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. “They got Freddy a win. He’s done that for us a bunch this year. That’s just payback.”
The players felt the same way.
“He saved us so many times we definitely owed him one,” Matthews said. “He came up with a couple big saves in the final seconds of the game to cap it off. The last couple games are not completely on him. For us, he’s our guy.”
The win broke a two-game losing streak and brought the Leafs within two points of the Boston Bruins in the race for second place in the NHL’s Atlantic Division and home advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
That Irish luck was present on the tying goal, the first of the season for Leafs defenceman Martin Marincin. His shot from the point bounced off a Flyer and into the net early in the third period to finish bringing the Leafs back from a 5-2 Philadelphia lead. It was a night for Leafs defencemen, at least in the offensive zone, as Jake Muzzin had two goals. Zach Hyman and Patrick Marleau also scored for the Leafs.
“Obviously the two points were crucial for us,” Muzzin said. “Maybe we’d like to do it in a different matter but a win’s a win. We showed a lot of character in the room here, not getting frustrated. We stayed with the program.
“[The Flyers] got some tips, some good goals, some bad goals, we stayed with it. We didn’t get flustered. We battled our way back for the win. You’ve got to win all kinds of games. This one was a little more exciting than others. We’ll take it.”
Speaking of luck, there wasn’t any earlier in the game, especially late in the first period when Matthews scored shortly after the Leafs tied the score 1-1. A coach’s challenge resulted in a ruling from the video judges that the net was off when the puck crossed the goal line so it was wiped out. It was the second consecutive game Matthews and the Leafs lost a goal because the net came off too soon.
Former Maple Leaf James van Riemsdyk scored three goals for the Flyers including a late one that put a scare into the home crowd. Jakub Voracek, Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere had Philadelphia’s other goals.
If anyone wasn’t sure how valuable Andersen (at his best) is to the Maple Leafs, then these last three games are proof. The Leafs’ goaltender was not sharp in all three of them. And the Leafs, who have picked a bad time of year to be even worse in their own end than usual, were at sea in all three of those games.
But this time they started the game the right way. Instead of floating their way through the first period, as they did too often in the past couple of months, the Leafs came out hard against the Flyers. Then again, considering their previous two losses, anything less would have been unacceptable.
However, Andersen was not on his game. He actually wasn’t too bad in the losses to Tampa and Chicago even if he did get pulled in both of them. But he certainly had the yips Friday night against the Flyers and it appeared Andersen’s confidence was in tatters.
At least three of the visitors’ goals should have been stopped and he almost coughed up a couple of other goals because of his shaky puck-handling. Once the Leafs came back, though, so did Andersen. As Matthews noted, he made a couple of big saves after van Riemsdyk scored with one minute and 14 seconds left in the third period to cut the Leafs’ lead to one goal.
The Leafs finish their back-to-back set Saturday night in Ottawa against the Senators. Garret Sparks will get the start in goal.