The Maple Leafs squandered a four-goal lead but managed to keep the offence coming, beating the Rangers 8-5.
In the first game of their season, the most anticipated in a generation, the Toronto Maple Leafs kicked an extra point in Winnipeg, blue-bombing the Jets 7-2.
In Game 2, Saturday’s gunslinger versus the New York Rangers, the Leafs scored another touchdown, then were successful on the two-point conversion, winning an 8-5 doozy.
Consider what these Maple Leafs, who’ve already tuned their city’s thermostat to delirious from their playoff run last spring, have shown us over 120 minutes — the standard length of an action flick.
Two starting goalies chased. Seventy-two shots on net. Fifteen goals scored, none of them empty-netters.
Saturday marked the first time in 100 years that Toronto scored seven or more times in consecutive games to open a season. The Arenas did the same in 1917, and indeed this is throwback hockey of the wildest order. But there’s balance amidst the mayhem.
Seventeen different Leafs players have points. Twelve different Leafs have goals. Nine of them have three points minimum. Again: We’re only six periods deep, folks.
Seize a four-goal lead. Give it right back. The wagons, they are a-burning.
“I don’t think we can keep this pace going. That’s unheard of,” said Jake Gardiner. “We’re going to have to crack down defensively.”
The 48th Highlanders sounded off the first home game with bagpipes, and things only grew noisier from there.
Former and current Leaf Dominic Moore, thrust into a battle for fourth-line centre with Eric Fehr, opened the scoring. And when the Rangers’ J.T. Miller knocked a rebound past Frederik Andersen, the Leafs surged with four unanswered goals.
The prettiest coming from Gardiner, the puck-poised defenceman, who scored unassisted on an end-to-end rush in which he weaved through four Rangers skaters and snapped a puck low-blocker on Henrik Lundqvist.
New York’s defenders wore out the heel of their blades, and the King looked like a pawn. So dominant was the home side in Period 1 that when Lundqvist finally gloved a harmlessly flipped puck to his crease, he held the thing aloft ironically, as if he’d made an important save.
Leafs Nation played along with a Bronx cheer, and a 5-1 lead looked safe until it totally wasn’t.
The Blueshirts flexed their resiliency in the second frame, erasing Toronto’s four-goal advantage and evoking memories of all those coughed-up leads the Leafs could chalk up to rookie mistakes in early 2016.
“When you’re up 5-1, you should have that game locked up,” said Zach Hyman, who scored twice in this one. “8-5? You don’t want to be in a game like that.”
Maybe. But you most definitely want to be at a game like that, especially when there’s free scarves and cameos by Dave Keon and Red Kelly and Wendel Clark.
“It’s good for a buzz for the game when there’s lots of goals going in,” James van Riemsdyk said.
Frederik Andersen called upon a double negative to explain something affirmatively positive: “You’re never not going to be happy about scoring goals.”
When was the last time you watched a team surrender a four-goal lead and still win by three?
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The turning point occurred when Vigneault challenged Tyler Bozak’s third-period go-ahead goal suspecting Mitch Marner, who carried the puck into the zone in his sweater, was offside.
The winner was upheld, and the Leo Komarov added an insurance marker during the delay-of-game bench penalty issued for a failed protest.
Double whammy, and one that may force AV to keep the flag in his pocket next time.
“Our video guy thought it was worth the challenge. It was a close call,” Vigneault explained. “When I saw the replay, I though the league made the right call.”
The Maple Leafs insist they don’t want to be a team that outscores their problems, that letting the horses out of the barn is not a recipe for success in the playoffs. (And, yes, a couple players mentioned the P-word after Game 2.)
“It’s kind of fun, eh?” Babcock smiled. Then edged on a dime. “But it’s dumb.
“So, you have to decide. We had lots of guys take their turn turning it over and being silly and doing crazy things. In saying that, we also had a lot of guys play real hard at times and do things right.
“The opener is always a little crazy. You never know what’s going to happen.”
We don’t know what’s going to happen in Game 3 Monday, either. The Leafs host the Chicago Blackhawks. The Original Six teams have 15 goals apiece through two games, skating unshackled and shooting with confidence, often.
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