Over the last couple of months, the Air Canada Centre has become one of the hardest arenas to visit in the NHL. The Detroit Red Wings became the most recent victims on Saturday night as they failed to bury the Toronto Maple Leafs late in their divisional clash.
Despite being massively outshot in the last two periods, the Toronto Maple managed to erase two one-goal deficits before using their speed to snag a late lead an hold it.
Sticky ice, strange bounces, unseen goals, Jimmy Howard’s glove and broken camera were simply not enough to slow down the Leafs on home ice, as they edged their rival Red Wings 4-3 for a 13th consecutive win at home.
Maple Leafs scramble through slippery opener
Almost right off the opening face-off, both teams appeared to have trouble staying on their feet. Throughout the first period, much of the play was about who could stay on their feet long enough to make a play as players in both uniforms were slipping and falling to the ice with regularity. That included an early fight between Darren Helm and Zach Hyman.
The first opening came for the Red Wings when Toronto’s Connor Brown was sent to the penalty box for hooking. Detroit had several chances on the power play but could not solve Frederik Andersen.
The power play came to an early end when Tyler Bertuzzi took an interference penalty trying to slow down a rush by the speedy Leaf penalty killers. Toronto would get a brief 5-on-3 after Helm returned to the penalty box after putting the puck over the glass, but despite some good pressure, the red-hot Leaf powerplay was cooled off and failed to solve Jimmy Howard.
The stability struggles continued as both teams saw their skates falling to the ice with regularity. With just under six minutes to go in the period, a scramble in front of the Detroit net saw several players fall in front of the net, which allowed Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen to get open at the side of the net. The puck would trickle through the bodies to him and the Finn fired it into the open net to give the home team the lead.
The Red Wings had a golden opportunity to equalize in the final minute of the period when Gustav Nyquist broke in alone, but the iffy ice struck again as he lost control of the puck near the Toronto blue line and failed to get a shot off.
Andersen keeps Leafs in it
After stumbling through the first frame, the Red Wings came out more prepared in the second period. It took less than five minutes for them to tie the score after Anthony Mantha blocked a shot in the defensive zone and found Dylan Larkin breaking out of the zone and beat Andersen from the slot to level the score at one-apiece.
One minute later, Martin Frk had a golden opportunity to give the Red Wings a lead when he was awarded a penalty shot, but Andersen shut him down.
Off the ensuing draw, the Leafs had a chance of their own to reclaim the lead on a rush when Morgan Rielly found Andreas Johnsson in the slot. The young Swede made a nifty move, but somehow Howard reached back and made a spectacular glove save.
After being dominated in the opening period, Detroit was all over the Leafs in the second, peppering Andersen with a constant barrage of shots. It finally paid off around the midway point of the period, when Danny DeKeyser’s point shot was deflected past Andersen by Bertuzzi to give the Red Wings a 2-1 lead.
That would serve as a wake-up call for Toronto, who upped their pressure. A dominant shift by the Leafs’ top line led to a Detroit icing, allowing Toronto to put fresh legs out against a tired Detroit top line. The Leafs took advantage, keeping the Red Wings from changing before Brown tipped Travis Dermott’s shot past Howard to level the game at 2-2.
The Red Wings dominated the second period, firing 19 shots on the Leafs’ net. However, despite scoring twice, they were forced to settle for a 2-2 tie going into the third period.
Red Wings luck runs out
Detroit would pick up where they left off at the end of the second, piling the pressure on the Leafs through the first few minutes of the third. Before Toronto even managed to put a shot on goal, they found themselves trailing again at the end of a confusing passage of play.
It all started when Frans Nielsen fired a shot that the ref’s lost track of. The puck went over the shoulder of Andersen, deflected off the net camera, breaking it, and coming back out without the red light coming on.
Justin Abdelkader was right there to bury the rebound, meaning Detroit had put the puck in twice. However, the goal was immediately called off for goalie interference as Abdelkader had passed through the crease behind Andersen just before Nielsen ripped his shot.
After the officials conferred, Nielsen’s goal was confirmed as the goal on the play and promptly called off for goaltender interference. However, Detroit would challenge and the call was overturned as Abdelkader’s fly-by had no effect on Andersen’s ability to make the save. After a confusing few minutes, the Red Wings led 3-2.
The goal seemed to have the opposite of the desired effect for the visitors, as a re-energized Leaf team responded. They came out flying again after falling behind, using their speed to pin the Red Wings back in their zone.
After a quiet first two periods, the Maple Leafs top line finally made a critical breakthrough. William Nylander and Auston Matthews showed off their soft hands in close as Nylander made a spinning pass to Matthews in the slot.
Matthews faked a shot, getting Howard to commit, before dealing back to Nylander at the side of the net. Nylander would step out and flicked the puck over the sprawled goaltender to level the score once again.
The Leafs kept coming and the Wings started getting desperate, which included Trevor Daley taking a holding penalty to prevent Kapanen from rushing in alone. Detroit would manage to contain the Leafs’ powerplay again to keep themselves in the game.
With seven and a half minutes to go, the Leafs’ speed would lead to another breakthrough. This time, it was veteran Patrick Marleau winning a race after the puck was chipped out of the Toronto zone, breaking in on a two-on-one, dangling the Detroit defender before flipping a tight backhand pass cross-crease to Nazem Kadri, who tapped the puck into the open net, giving Toronto a late lead.
Detroit would push to level the game but failed to set themselves up in the Toronto zone. With just under four minutes to go, they nearly tied the game on a rare mistake from Andersen.
The Leaf netminder failed to control a long shot from outside of the zone, letting it bounce off and over his shoulder and roll toward the empty net. Andersen narrowly managed to dive back and cover the puck before the Detroit attacker reached the net.
That would be the Red Wings’ last gasp, as even an extra attacker for the final two minutes failed to put any dents in Toronto’s defense. The Leafs hung on for the narrow victory.
By the numbers
The Red Wings massively outshot Toronto 41 to 29. In fact, Detroit had more blocks and hits while committing fewer giveaways. They also managed to do what some of the league’s best teams have failed to do over the past month: shut down Toronto’s powerplay.
The Leafs went 0-for-4 with the man advantage. In the end, the Leafs were simply more efficient at burying their chances, using the speed to create space around the Detroit net.
The Red Wings will next make the trip up the highway to pay a visit to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.
The win extends Toronto’s franchise-record 13-game home winning streak and moves them to within five points of the Boston Bruins for second in the Atlantic and home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs will put their streak back on the line on Monday when they play host to the last-place Buffalo Sabres.