PATTY-WHACKED: Luck of the Irish not with Maple Leafs as Hurricanes rally for shootout win

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Like Irishmen gathering outside the pub on St. Patrick’s Day morning, the Maple Leafs couldn’t wait to get started Saturday night.

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But they’ll have a wee hangover in the wake of one of their most rewarding efforts this season turning into a 5-4 sour shootout loss before a festive crowd at Scotiabank Arena.

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From getting in the Carolina Hurricanes’ faces all night and putting 40 shots against one of the NHL’s top defensive teams, the Leafs also surrendered 40 and a two-goal lead with 92 seconds to play.

Overtime solved nothing, including the last of four misfiring Toronto power plays, before Jake Guentzel, who took the extra-period minor, supplied the lone shootout goal.

The Leafs had new lines and special teams units in trying to get past injuries to Mitch Marner and most recently Calle Jarnkrok. Coach Sheldon Keefe lauded parts of the special teams’ efforts, despite giving up two on the power play.

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“With all that said, you’ve gotta find a way (to close it out),” Keefe said of Sebastian Aho scoring 6-on-4 with a power play and again via a deflected puck with less than seven seconds in regulation. Fewer than three ticks remained in the second period when Seth Jarvis scored on the power play to further bite into Toronto’s 3-0 lead. One of the Leaf goals did come from Nick Robertson, activated for the first time in more than two weeks.

“I thought we did a good job with (new assignments),” Keefe said. “There were spots on each line where you’re trying to find chemistry and rely on our more experienced guys to bring others along.

“I thought we got good efforts from guys. The (final) result sucks, but we stood in there. We scored four and could’ve had more against a team that gives up almost nothing. A lot of good things if you look at it from the process point of view.”

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What a range of emotions Saturday for Toronto netminder Ilya Samsonov.

He brought Toronto’s morning skate to a halt when he caught a shot in the groin and was down a few moments before leaving the ice in frustration.

“The puck just got to a bad zone, sometimes that happens,” a smiling Samsonov said.

He was attempting a 14th win in his past 16 games, coming in with a record of 13-2 in his past 15 starts, with a .914 save percentage. The crowd was chanting his name a few times after the Canes had open looks in regulation, overtime and when he turned away Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andrei Svechnikov in the shootout before Guentzel’s deke.

One of Samsonov’s biggest backers is Kuznetsov, his friend from years ago in Washington.

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“I believe his best games are ahead of him and pretty sure people will see his best version,” Kuznetsov said Saturday morning. “He has to have higher goals. He’s not a kid anymore, you can put more pressure on him, he has to learn. I hope he can isolate from all the outside talk and just play hockey.”

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The early Leaf energy created three breakaway goals, two of them second period strikes by John Tavares and William Nylander. with Tavares driving the play to set up Robertson. Fourth line centre David Kampf looked like he had snuffed the Canes rally with an insurance five-hole goal on Pyotr Kotchetkov early in the third period … Kotchetkov was in the same second-round draft class as Robertson in 2019 … Tavares’ two points passed Brian Bellows for 90th place in NHL career scoring, reaching 1,023, a few hours after Brian’s son Kieffer had two goals for the farm team Marlies in a 7-3 win at SBA over Rochester … Coming off Frederik Andersen’s latest win, a 4-0 shutout of Florida, Canes’ coach Rod Brind’Amour decided the former Leaf was suitably back in game shape from a three-month hiatus with a blood clotting condition to dress the club’s two other goalies … Carolina had allowed 25 fewer goals than the Leafs before Saturday. “A consistent a team as you’ll find,” Keefe said. “Their defence by and large has been there a long time, it’s the heart of their team. The forward group has bought in (adding Kuznetsov and Guentzel at the trade deadline). Like a like a lot of teams, they’re trying to find their way through the (first and second round) playoff gauntlet” … Canes’ blueliner Brent Burns played in his 1,400th NHL game Saturday. “You don’t just show up and play that many games,” Brind’Amour said in praise of Burns’ longevity … The Leafs head back on the road next week for back-to-back games in Philadelphia and Washington.

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