Eleven goals were scored and key contributors all did their part, but a slapstick altercation between Evander Kane and Michael Bunting was the most entertaining piece of the Maple Leafs’ victory over the Oilers on Saturday night.
Nearly midway through the third period, Edmonton and Toronto’s pepper pots grappled with one another as they skated down the ice. There was a lot of grabbing, hooking and tugging until punches were finally exchanged.
If they had not been wearing helmets, they would have pulled each other’s hair and poked one another in the eye like Curly and Moe before hurling pies on the way to the penalty box.
By then the Maple Leafs were well on their way to a 7-4 triumph that avenged a lopsided loss in Alberta 10 days prior. Kane was in ill-humour; earlier Bunting had been whistled for an Oscar-worthy embellishment penalty.
Both ended up with double roughing infractions, but Bunting’s team captured the two points that were on the line.
He is a master at drawing penalties – the most in the NHL going on two years now – as well as the ire of his opponents.
“He likes to dive and embellish,” Kane said afterward, as aggrieved as if he had been kissed on the cheek by Brad Marchand. “You want to get that out of the game, but [the referees] prevent guys from the consequences of those actions.
“Fighting is a great deterrent for those type of players. He’s a perfect example of that.”
To which on Sunday Bunting smiled and shrugged as if the comment didn’t bother him.
“I don’t really care to be honest,” the Toronto forward said following practice at the Ford Performance Centre. “I am not going to lose sleep over it.
“I just stick to my game. I play every shift hard. I try not to let things bug me out there. I am moving on from it.”
It was a good win for the Maple Leafs, who play three more times at Scotiabank Arena this week. The Buffalo Sabres are in town on Monday, the Colorado Avalanche come calling on Wednesday and the Carolina Hurricanes pay a visit on Friday.
Toronto has had its way with the Sabres so far this season but they are usually more of a bother. Colorado and Carolina each poses a major challenge.
Edmonton, which holds down the first wildcard position in the Western Conference, did as well. It jumped out to a 3-1 lead but then did Oilers things that turned into a 5-3 deficit in fewer than six minutes.
“We had self-inflicted mistakes that cost us the game,” Kane said.
At times, Edmonton is as electrifying as a trapeze act. At others, it is just a tiny slip away from a major mishap.
For value’s sake, fans got their money’s worth. Connor McDavid scored his league-leading 55th goal and had two assists. Leon Draisaitl scored his 42nd, tied for fourth-most in the NHL.
Noel Acciari and John Tavares each scored twice for the home team, Tavares has 30 now. Auston Matthews got his 30th for the seventh year in a row. Mitch Marner had the best night of all – one goal and four points.
Neither Toronto’s Matt Murray nor Stuart Skinner did much to distinguish themselves in the net, but at least Murray buckled down to allow his team to mount a comeback.
“The game was probably over if it got to 4-1,” Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs head coach, said Sunday. “Matt held his ground. You can’t give up anymore if you want to come back.”
Murray will get a second straight start on Monday versus Buffalo.
Toronto is 40-17-8 and second in the Atlantic Division behind the high-flying Bruins. On Saturday, Boston became the first team to clinch a berth in the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs and the fastest club in NHL history to reach the 50-win mark in a season.
The Sabres are desperately clinging to hopes for the postseason.
“I didn’t love the first period on my part on Saturday but I felt better as the game went on and I settled in,” Murray said. “The team did a heck of a job in the second period.
“That’s where it could have flipped either way.”
The even-keeled Tavares was assessed a $5,000 fine on Sunday – that is the most allowed – for slashing Vincent Desharnais across the wrist in the third period. The slash was a retaliation for a cross-check by the Edmonton defenceman.
It was deserved but not in the Kane/Bunting category.
“He is a competitor,” Tavares said of his teammate. “He plays with a lot of emotion. We love him.”