A broom was the last thing anyone thought to see in the hands of the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena this weekend.
That it was wielded by a 40-year-old scrapping defenceman, a new fourth line and the lesser of their two goaltenders to complete the unlikely sweep made it all the sweeter for coach Sheldon Keefe.
The most stunning win came Saturday night, persevering 5-2 over the favoured Vancouver Canucks. It was the first time in nine home games the Leafs held the opposition to less than four goals as they had to fight their way through the first period when the more aggressive West Coasters could’ve made short work of them.
Saturday’s result didn’t look to be in the cards after they blew a three-goal lead Friday and survived the 5-4 shootout win over Calgary.
“The game works in funny ways,” said Keefe. “(The Canucks) score on a couple of instigators (penalties), when those are moments you want the guys to get a kill. But to me, we built up some good karma through that, guys sticking together, stepping up (Mark Giordano going after Dakota Joshua after what he thought was a high hit that cut David Kampf, Max Domi jumping Ian Cole for flattening Nick Robertson), big moments to get the crowd involved.
“Despite the fact the puck went in twice, it just seemed to pull us together. There were great responses throughout the game and we did a good job of managing (a third period lead).”
Vancouver was rested, while the Leafs’ struggles on defence and in net whenever Ilya Samsonov gets the call were well-documented for the visitors. But the Russian stopper limited the damage by Elias Petterssen and Quinn Hughes, two of the top five in NHL scoring, to a point each in an evening that unfolded with fireworks and costly fisticuffs.
“It got some energy going,” Giordano said. “I think fans in Toronto appreciate that. I don’t want to be a guy that just barks all the time and then you see a teammate go down. That Joshua, he’s a big boy. But it got me going, too and sometimes you need that, to get right in the game, though it felt like I sat an hour after that (with a major and misconduct).”
J.T. Miller and Pius Suter had the power-play goals for Vancouver’s unit that came in at almost 33% success, Suter banging in a fat Samsonov rebound.
But all this snark from the Leafs came with designated enforcer Ryan Reaves scratched for the first time this season and a rebuilt fourth line with Bobby McMann called up and Noah Gregor and Kampf supplying go-ahead and insurance goals.
“Vancouver was coming in pretty hot (10-2-1) so this was a big game to build on,” Gregor said. “Our line played with pace, speed and put pucks into areas where we could get it back.
“I’ve had chances to score in past games so it was good to see one go in (against Thatcher Demko and his save percentage of .948).”
Domi assisted on Robertson’s goal in the third period after their forecheck led to a turnover.
Matthew Knies earlier knocked in his fourth of the year after Tyler Bertuzzi worked the puck into the crease by banking it off Demko’s back from down low. A similar tactic saw William Nylander feign going around the net with the puck, but turn back, twisting Demko the wrong way.
Nylander’s goal continued the hottest start in franchise history, 10 goals and 12 assists with points in 15 games, just in time for the Leafs’ trip to Sweden.
“This weekend is huge for us going to Sweden,” Robertson said, with visible stitches around his ear from the Cole hit. “It’s big for our team to go there and we want to be confident. I thought we’ve been due for more wins.
“I’m not going to cry about the hit on me, it’s hockey, but I’m just glad that Max stepped up for me.”
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Keefe held an impromptu video session after the Leafs had only three first-period shots on Demko, while Samsonov made 21 saves of his 31 saves in the final two frames.
The middle period saw the Toronto penalty-killers under stress again, including a 23-second 5-on-3 that came in part from five Leafs not noticing they were one over the limit for almost 10 seconds. But Kampf almost scored with his team down two men before Gregor snapped the winner in.
Kampf tipped in the fifth goal, his first of the year. Toronto is now 6-0-0 when it does hold a lead going into the third.