Rookies make mark in Motor City, Leafs moving up in the Atlantic
April 2, 2017, 3:23 PM ET [26 Comments]
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The Toronto Maple Leafs final game at Joe Louis Arena once again provided a stage for their rookies to shine, as the trio of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander scored four times in a 5-4 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
Matthews had three points (including the game-winning goal with 1:09 left in regulation), which extended his point streak to eight games and tied Peter Ihnacak’s club record for most points by a rookie (66).
The 19-year-old holds the NHL rookie points lead by four points over Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and his 38 goals ties Neal Broten’s record for most goals by an American rookie.
“We've got good young players. The guys have done a good job, whoever drafted them. (Mark Hunter) and his group have done a real good job and we don't want him resting on his laurels, we need more. The more good players you have, the better chance you have to win year-in and year-out.” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “I think (the rookies) have been difference makers their whole life, so they don't understand anything different. That's what they try to do.”
Detroit led 1-0 after 20 minutes, but Toronto responded with three goals in the middle frame. Matthews tied the game with a short-side shot past Wings goal Jimmy Howard, Marner scored his 18th of the season on a breakaway pass from Connor Carrick and Nylander extended the lead to 3-1 with his patented wrist shot coming off the right side.
Niklas Jensen narrowed the lead to 3-2 late in the second and Henrik Zetterberg set up Niklas Kronwall for the tying goal late in the third, but Toronto bounced back with goals from James van Riemsdyk and Matthews 1:17 apart to provide the margin of victory.
Toronto has won six of their last seven, which has been necessary to keep ahead of Tampa Bay and Boston in the Eastern Conference playoff race and will have to maintain that pace to guarantee a post-season berth and finish in
The Lightning earned a point in 2-1 overtime loss to Montreal on Saturday and are at 86 points; five points in back of the Leafs with five games remaining. Tampa has a head-to-head matchup with Toronto on Thursday and centers Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson are close to returning.
Boston has bounced back after four straight losses and continue to trade places with Toronto on a daily basis. The Bruins moved ahead of the Leafs after beating Florida on Saturday afternoon. Toronto switched places after winning in Detroit and Boston moved ahead once again with a 3-2 win over the Hawks in Chicago.
What may change the playoff landscape is the collapse of the Ottawa Senators, who have lost eight of their last 10 games and losing key players to injury. Already without Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot, the Sens lost defenseman Cody Ceci to a lower body in a loss to Winnipeg on Saturday.
It is conceivable that Toronto could finish as high as second in the Atlantic, but their primary motivation should be to finish at least third in the division to guarantee playing the wounded Sens or the Bruins in the first round, instead of the Washington Capitals.