Maple Leafs Lose to Red Wings in OT Depsite 2nd Period Comeback

The Hockey Writers

The Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Detroit Red Wings Saturday night in what could have been the biggest game of the year for the Red Wings. They desperately needed to get the two points to stay in the race for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. For the Maple Leafs, this game was more about Auston Matthews getting 70 goals than anything else.

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The game started, and the play was back and forth until Joe Veleno hit Timothy Liljegren from behind into the boards and got a two-minute penalty for boarding. This led to the game’s first goal on the power play, scored by Mitch Marner. After that, the Red Wings turned it on, scored four goals in a row, and took a 4-1 lead into the second period. Going into the second period, the Maple Leafs decided to show up and fight back to tie the game. Nick Robertson got it started, followed by Matthews, who hit 69 goals, and John Tavares with the fourth goal. The game remained tied through the third and went to overtime (OT) when Patrick Kane found Dylan Larkin’s stick, and he tipped the puck past Ilya Samsonov to win the game and stay in the wild-card race.

Maple Leafs Need to Rest Players

If last night wasn’t the perfect reason as to why the Maple Leafs need to rest their stars ahead of the playoffs, I’m not sure what is. There were numerous times when players were shaken up, and Maple Leafs fans were holding their breath. The biggest name was Matthews, who almost scored his 70th goal of the season and then crashed hard into the end boards and was very slow to get to his feet, but he stayed in the game and seemed to be fine afterward.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Jake McCabe and Bobby McMann weren’t so lucky, though. McMann appeared to have hurt his leg when he was tangled up with the Red Wings defenceman earlier in the first. It looked like he twisted his knee, and when he got up, he was skating very gingerly to the bench. Unfortunately, he left the game and didn’t return, which means the Maple Leafs may be without him to start the playoffs. As for McCabe, an unselfish act caused him to miss the rest of the game. He went down to block a shot that looked to be a sure goal, and the puck went up his stick and hit him in the face. Instantly, the Maple Leafs’ players were calling for the referees to block the whistle and stop play. When the play stopped, McCabe got to his feet and skated off on his own, but he looked to be bleeding badly from his nose.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Keefe Calls Matthews’ 70-Goal Pursuit “Major Distraction”

With only two games remaining in the Maple Leafs season, it is time to start resting the star players. That doesn’t mean they need to sit out the entire week and then attempt to ramp things back up for the playoffs. But it does mean giving them less ice time or potentially giving some a night off for one of the games. It seems that the whole organization wants Matthews to hit the 70-goal mark, which is understandable, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of losing him for the playoffs. If they play him in one of their next two games and he scores his 70th goal, Sheldon Keefe should reduce his role and his ice time to give him some time to rest and recover. This goes for all the big-name players. You need your best players to be the best on the ice in the playoffs, and they can’t do that if they are tired or fighting injuries.

This Team Has Heart

Over the past handful of seasons, there has been one common complaint from Leafs’ Nation about the team. It is that they don’t have heart; they don’t care about anything besides their stats and money. Well, it only took a change at the helm and a new philosophy to find out that this team does have heart and cares about more than just themselves. GM Brad Treliving brought in players like Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, and Ryan Reaves to help bring some character into the room. This was his first step towards changing the dynamic of this team, and it worked. He then signed Simon Benoit, who was thought to be a depth defenceman and turned out to be a mainstay on the back end.

At the deadline, he brought in Joel Edmundson, Ilya Lyubushkin, and Connor Dewar, who are all guys who play team-first hockey. This has changed the entire DNA of this team. You see Tavares mixing it up in front of the net and William Nylander grabbing someone in a scrum after the whistle. You even saw Matthews get a 10-minute misconduct for being a part of a huge line scrum against the Buffalo Sabres. These are all things that we hadn’t seen before, and it has impacted this team and the way they play the game.

Related: Nick Robertson’s Future With the Maple Leafs

Last night, for instance, the Maple Leafs fell behind 4-1 early. They had a terrible first period and could have just said, “Oh well,” and moved on to the next one. Instead, they regrouped in the first intermission and came out, and within 10 minutes, they battled back to tie the game. This is how you win Stanley Cups: you are resilient, you battle hard, and you have a pack mentality. That is what the Tampa Bay Lightning had, and they won back-to-back Cups and appeared in three straight Stanley Cup Finals. This change in the team’s DNA has come at the expense of a lot of players and an entirely new GM, who was the catalyst for the change. If they can continue playing this way with this mindset and that much heart, Leafs’ Nation may be in for a long playoff run this spring.

Overall, last night might have been disappointing to some Maple Leafs fans because they battled back and played a hard-fought second and third period. However, these games don’t mean a ton; they are games to put the finishing touches on systems and pad some stats. If there is anything to be worried about heading into the playoffs, it is the power play. It has struggled a lot since the beginning of March, but other than that, this team showed last night that they have a heart.

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