Mitch Marner scored with 2:09 left in overtime to give the Maple Leafs a 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday at Scotiabank Arena.
It was the second goal of the night for Marner, who tied the game 3-3 late in the third period. The fleet forward extended his career-long games streak to eight, during which he has scored 10 times and had 11 assists.
Auston Matthews also scored twice for Toronto, his 30th and 31st goals of the season, but he appeared to suffer a head injury with 23 seconds remaining in regulation and did not return for the overtime.
Matthews had fallen to the ice and his head then collided with the knee of the Hurricanes’ Nino Niederreiter.
Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said afterward that he had already planned to give Matthews a day off on Tuesday.
He was undergoing tests by training staff to see if he has a concussion.
“There is no word, really,” Keefe said in a postgame post-mortem with journalists. “It will take some time for him to settle down and for us to have him assessed properly.”
The Maple Leafs do not play again until Thursday in Calgary. They will depart on Wednesday for a road trip that will also include games at Vancouver on Saturday and Seattle on Monday.
The win was Toronto’s sixth in a row and it came in the team’s most exciting game of the season.
There were four lead changes, fierce puck battles, stick skirmishes and one fight for good measure.
Petr Mrazek made 28 saves while winning an exciting goalie battle with Frederik Andersen in a match between netminders who were facing their former teams.
“He was really great,” Keefe said. “There were tips, rebounds, shots through traffic – he gave us a chance to find our way into the game.”
Andersen played in 268 games for Toronto over five seasons before he signed with Carolina in the summer of 2021. He also had 28 saves in the see-saw battle between two evenly matched opponents who both aspire to win the Stanley Cup.
“It was a competitive game,” Keefe said. “Generally, both teams were not making it easy for each other to the net. That gives it a playoff feel.”
It was a tightly played first period with plenty of frantic stick battles and furious clashes for pucks in the corners and along the boards. Both goalies came out sharp – Mrazek in his fifth start in the past nine games, Andersen looking none the worse for wear after travelling to Toronto on Sunday from Las Vegas where he played in the all-star game.
The Big Dane stopped Ilya Mikheyev early from close in and turned back a crisp wrist shot from Marner nearly midway through the first period to keep it 0-0.
Carolina then got on the board first when Nino Niederreiter tipped in a pass from Ian Cole with 6:52 left in the first period.
The opening 20 minutes also featured a fight between Wayne Simmonds and the Hurricanes’ Brendan Smith after Smith delivered a hard knee-on-knee hit to Toronto’s Ondrej Kase.
William Nylander had an excellent chance to knot it up when he wheeled and fired at Andersen from the left side of the net 90 seconds before the intermission but Andersen fought it off.
The Maple Leafs started the second on a power play but failed to beat Andersen on three shots with the man advantage.
The game featured the league’s best power-play unit in the Maple Leafs and its best on the penalty kill in Carolina. Toronto got another 5-on-4 opportunity midway through the second when Michael Bunting drew a high-sticking call on Smith. It was the 27th penalty Bunting has drawn, most in the NHL.
Andersen was impenetrable again – twice stopping howitzers from Matthews.
Matthews finally cashed in a goal on Toronto’s third straight power play of the period. It was his fifth goal in the past three games and the 47th multi-goal game of his NHL career. He followed that up with a second 23 seconds before the second intermission and the Maple Leafs had their first lead.
It lasted only eight seconds into the third when Tony DeAngelo beat Mrazek off the puck drop for his eight goal of the season. Derek Stepan then put Carolina up 3-2 before Marner tied it up at 3-3 with 5:37 remaining.
“Every year, he is just becoming a more complete player,” forward Alexander Kerfoot said of Marner following the morning skate. “He is a dynamic offensive player, and when he is on the puck a lot and shooting, he is a load to handle.
“He can beat you in a lot of different ways. He drives the offence on the ice and those guys are hard to come by. He is just doing it on a more consistent basis this year.”
Marner and his fiancée went on a trip to Miami during the all-star break along with Justin Holl and his wife, Peter Mrazek and his girlfriend and the team’s young Swedish defencemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren.
“It feels real good,” Marner said. “It is something I have wanted to do a lot more of and it is happening. For me, the most important thing is just trying to stay in this rhythm.”
The Maple Leafs won in overtime without Matthews. Keefe mixed up the lines and then Marner came through.
“It was a bit of a crazy game there, with the lead being taken away from us and then coming back to tie the game.” Marner said. “I think just the work ethic and battle we had tonight is something we talked about wanting to do more of and went into the second half, and tonight was a good night to start that.”