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Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares celebrates after scoring the game-tying goal against the Detroit Red Wings, in Toronto, on Dec. 23, 2018.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

There was something familiar about how the Toronto Maple Leafs played the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday night.

The last time the Red Wings came to Toronto, back on Dec. 6, the Leafs took the first two periods off, worked like crazy to tie the score in the third and then lost in overtime. This time around, they did much the same, only coming to life a little earlier to tie the score in the second period. They did let the Red Wings get the lead back in the third on a goal by Frans Nielsen but managed to tie the score again and this time the Leafs pulled out a 5-4 win in overtime, the same score they lost by 17 days ago.

It is not the recommended way to do things but Leafs head coach Mike Babcock will take it. After all, the comeback means the Leafs go into the NHL’s Christmas break with a four-game winning streak. They are also second overall in the NHL standings and managing to stay within six points of the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning, their Atlantic Division rivals, despite the fact the Bolts have 14 wins in their last 16 games.

“I like the resiliency when we need it; I wish we didn’t have to use it,” Babcock said. “It’s 82 games and when you look at it at the end, the teams that win lots win 3-2, they come back, they find ways to win. That’s what good teams do.

“It's not perfect every night, you'd like it to be, but it's not. [The Red Wings] worked really hard. I knew they were going to work really hard. We didn't work as hard in the first … but in the end we found a way to win. It's a good feeling going into Christmas, the guys have done a good job.”

With goaltender Garret Sparks pulled for an extra skater, John Tavares deflected a shot from the point by Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner, who up to that point had been having a horrendous night. The goal came with eight seconds left in the third and got the Leafs to overtime.

Then Kasperi Kapanen sent the Leafs into the Christmas break on a winning note when he scored his second goal of the game one minute and 53 seconds into overtime. Frederik Gauthier and Morgan Rielly scored the other Leafs goals. Filip Hronek, Michael Rasmussen and Christoffer Ehn also scored for the Red Wings.

Two different Leafs teams seemed to play the first two periods. The first one kept shooting itself in the foot and fell behind 2-1 after 20 minutes. But the Leafs came back with an entirely different performance in the second period, although a few of the culprits from the first period persisted, and sent the game into the third tied 3-3.

After opening in high style with a Kapanen goal 27 seconds into the game, the Leafs found themselves down by a goal at the end of the first period, in which they were outshot 14-3. It was the lowest number of shots the Leafs managed in a first period this season and tied their low for any period. Considering the number of self-inflicted wounds in that 20 minutes, the Leafs were fortunate to be only down a goal at that point.

It was a far cry from how the Leafs started the game. The opening faceoff saw William Nylander reunited with his old centre Auston Matthews for the first time since Nylander was signed to a contract on Dec. 1. Nylander was moved to left wing from his customary spot at right wing and Kapanen stayed on the right side, where he has done yeoman’s work since Nylander missed the first two months of the season because of the contract dispute.

Alas, Nylander’s work was not pleasing to Babcock. At the start of the second period he was exiled back to Nazem Kadri’s line and Patrick Marleau was promoted to play left wing with Matthews and Kapanen.

As a group, the Leafs could not stay out of the penalty box in the first period and there were a couple of individuals whose struggles stood out. It was one of those nights only Gardiner seems to have. The defenceman, who has a portfolio of spectacular defensive gaffes, made a couple of beauties that led to Detroit goals and Sparks did not distinguish himself.

Gardiner’s first one came not long after Kapanen’s goal, when the Matthews line was trapped in the Leafs zone. After a lengthy Detroit cycle around the Leafs, the puck came to Gardiner at the end boards. He had some time but suffered one of those brain cramps that strike him from time to time.

Gardiner flipped the puck into the middle of the ice, a fat Christmas gift for the Detroit defenceman Hronek. He stepped up and received a second gift, from Sparks, who let the puck get under him to tie the score 1-1. And so it went for the rest of the first period.

Things did not turn around immediately in the second period. The Wings took a 3-1 lead at 9:53 when Ehn scored his first NHL goal. It looked spectacular if viewed through a Red Wings lens, as Ehn rushed the puck down the right side, skated right over Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott and put a long backhand shot into the top corner.

However, on the Leafs side of things, Sparks whiffed on the shot. It was well-placed but not a bullet and Sparks should have caught it. In his first season as the Leafs’ backup after being the American Hockey League’s goaltender-of-the-year in 2017-18 as a starter for the Toronto Marlies, Sparks does not seem to be getting a handle on this backup thing, where you play every two weeks and have to come out sharp.

“We got the win, that’s the main point,” Sparks said. “It didn’t look too hot there for a second but when you have talented players like we do, who can score quickly when we need to, we never took ourselves out of it.

“[Backup] is a challenging role but one I’m enjoying. It’s my dream to play in the NHL so I can wait a week or two between starts.”

The fourth line got things moving for the Leafs when Gauthier snapped a feed from Par Lindholm to the top corner at 12:52 of the second period for his first goal of the season. There was another NHL first on that goal as the second assist went to right winger Trevor Moore, who was playing in his first NHL game after a promotion from the Marlies. He replaced Tyler Ennis, who sustained a broken ankle in Saturday’s 5-3 win over the New York Rangers.

In keeping with recent NHL tradition in the pre-game warmup, Moore was sent out before his teammates for a solo lap before they took the ice.

“It was fun,” Moore said. “[Nazem Kadri] told me right before that I was going to get the lap but he didn’t tell me where the pucks were, so I was out there trying to find them.”

Red Wings defenceman and Toronto native Trevor Daley marked his 1,000th NHL game on Sunday night. He got a salute from the Leafs and a nice ovation from the crowd in the first period.

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