The Leafs were concluding a four-game home stand tonight as they hosted the Carolina Hurricanes in a rare Friday night home game. They wore their St. Pats jerseys in this St. Patrick’s day tilt. Luke Schenn finally made his long-awaited home re-debut since being reacquired at the deadline. It’s been 3,998 days since Schenn’s last home game as a Leaf, so to say it’s been a long time coming would be an understatement.
The new-look fourth line, a very impressive line since they’ve been put together, opened the scoring in this one as Zach Aston-Reese tipped an Erik Gustafsson point shot home for his sixth of the year at 2:54. Not a whole lot happened after the Leafs opened the scoring as shots on goal were just 6-5 in favor of the green and white midway through the period. Mitch Marner worked more of his magic as he worked his way into the offensive zone, and he scored a gorgeous goal, his 25th of the year, off the post and in to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead at 12:30. The goal was the Leafs’ first rush chance of the opening frame. The Hurricanes quickly answered back with their own goal off the stick of Brady Skjei. He walked in from the point and let a wrist shot fly that trickled past Samsonov to cut the Leafs’ lead to one goal. Samsonov has to stop that one; no point in sugarcoating it. The game’s first penalty went against the Hurricanes as Jordan Staal was called for boarding Zach Aston-Reese at 16:57.
The Hurricanes’ penalty has been perfect in their last 12 games; they were 28 for 28. The Leafs’ top unit wasted very little time as Auston Matthews dished it to John Tavares as they entered the zone. Tavares elected to take the shot that deflected off of Matthews’ knee and into the net for his 32nd of the year at 17:38. Noel Acciari was clipped up high by Jesse Puljujarvi and remained in some distress on the ice. Neither ref caught it, and there was no call on the play. On the next shift, Calle Jarnkrok was pushed into Kochetkov, yet he was somehow called for goalie interference. To say Sheldon Keefe was not pleased with that sequence would be an incredible understatement. 1:57 of the Hurricanes’ power play would carry over into the second period. Shots on goal in the opening frame were 12-11 in favor of the Hurricanes. TOI leader for the green and white was Morgan Rielly with 7:18.
The Leafs’ penalty killers did a fantastic job of killing off the Hurricanes’ man advantage; they didn’t give up a single shot on goal. Following the penalty, the Leafs went on to spend the next couple of shifts in the Hurricanes’ zone. Samasonov made an unbelievable pad save on Sebastian Aho less than four minutes into the second period to keep it a 3-1 game. Auston Matthews, who has looked more and more like his usual self with each passing game lately, pulled off an insane individual effort, but he just missed going bar down with the finish. Either way, it sent a buzz throughout the rink! The Hurricanes cut into the Leafs’ lead again as Martin Necas scored his 26th of the year to make it a 3-2 game. Just over four minutes after that, the Leafs made it a two-goal game again as Sam Lafferty made a fantastic pass to a streaking Zach Aston-Reese. Reese made no mistake finishing off the play for his second and seventh of the game. In the final few minutes of the second period, the Hurricanes upped the pressure and hemmed the Leafs in their zone. Credit to the Leafs as they weathered the storm and got out of the period still up 4-2. Shots on goal in the middle frame were 7-6 in favor of the Hurricanes. A low event second period in terms of shots. They also held an 18-17 advantage overall. TOI leader for the green and white after 40 minutes was William Nylander with 14:48.
Both teams traded chances in the opening moments of the third period as they settled into the final frame of regulation; the Leafs did a fantastic job of shutting down the Hurricanes and not giving them any room in the offensive zone to generate any dangerous chances. Eight minutes into the period, the Hurricanes upped their intensity and pressure a little as they hemmed the Leafs in their zone, but credit to Ilya Samsonov, who shut the door on multiple occasions. With 11:04 to go, Morgan Rielly let an absolute laser fly during a two-on-one with Auston Matthews, and Kochetkov didn’t stand a chance as Rielly buried his fourth of the year. His second goal in as many games. After a subpar first half of the year, Rielly has four goals in his last 18 games. Zach Aston-Reese was called for tripping Jordan Martinook at 10:14 to give the Hurricanes their second power play of the night. While the Hurricanes applied much pressure with the man advantage, they could again not register a single shot on goal. With 6:57 to go, the Leafs found themselves headed to the penalty kill once again as Michael Bunting was called for holding Brady Skjei. Seconds before the call on Bunting, TJ Brodie was hauled down in the neutral zone, but there was no call on the play. Despite having just ten forwards remaining in the game, the Leafs penalty killers came up clutch once again.
Luke Schenn absolutely decked Sebastian Aho, much to the chagrin of the home crowd, as a “LUUUUUUUKE” chant rang out at Scotiabank Arena. The Leafs would shut down the Hurricanes the rest of the way as the final horn sounded to close this one out. Ilya Samsonov improved to 18-2-2 on home ice this season with tonight’s victory. Shots on goal in the third period were 12-8 in favor of the Hurricanes; they also held a 32-24 advantage overall. TOI leader for the green and white in this one was TJ Brodie with 21:03.
Tonight’s Three Stars
1st Star: Calle Jarnkrok – 2 Assists
2nd Star: Zach Aston-Reese – 2 Goals
3rd Star: Ilya Samsonov – 30 saves
The Leafs have a quick turnaround as they are back in action again tomorrow night in Ottawa to take on the Senators!
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