The Leafs kicked off the 2023 calendar year at home as the St. Louis Blues were in town, the first of a three game home stand. The Blues and Leafs faced off on December 27th in St. Louis, a game in which the Leafs managed to pull off a 5-4 overtime victory. The Blues had the upper hand early on in the opening minutes of this one as they outshot the Leafs 4-1 in the first three minutes of the game. The blue and white were given the first power play of the game as Mitch Marner’s speed was too much for Justin Faulk to handle, and as a result, Faulk tripped Marner. However, that didn’t slow the Blues down, as Brandon Saad took advantage of the Leafs using a five-forward unit. He was able to attack, but Marner couldn’t defend him, resulting in the game’s first goal. In saying that, it wasn’t a difficult shot at all. You kind of hope for a save from your goaltender there.
At the eight-minute mark of the opening period, Zach Aston-Reese tripped as he entered the Blues zone, giving the Leafs their second power play of the game. Once again, the blue and white could not capitalize on the man advantage. Shortly after the Leafs second power play, the Blues were awarded their first man advantage of the game. Unlike the Leafs, the Blues made no mistake with their power play as Jordan Kyrou let a shot go from the point that was deflected past Samsonov by Brayden Schenn. The ever-effective new third line of the Leafs went to work again as Kerfoot used his speed to gain the Blues zone. He then threw it on net, and Engvall was at the front of the net to deflect it past Binnington for his eighth goal of the year and fifth in his last ten games. That goal went straight to the Leafs legs as Matthews, Nylander, and Bunting came ever so close to tying the game right after the Engvall goal, but Binnington shut the door. The first period would come to a close as the Blues would carry a 2-1 lead into the intermission. Shots on goal were 10-8 in favor of the Blues after 20 minutes. TOI leader so far for the blue and white was Morgan Rielly with 6:55.
The Leafs were hoping for a bounce-back period in the second. Luckily for them, the second period has been their best period all year. Unfortunately for them, less than two minutes into the frame, John Tavares was called for high sticking Nick Leddy giving the Blues their second power play of the game. Once again, the Blues capitalized on the man advantage, this time, it was Jordan Kyrou who found a loose puck in the slot, and he made no mistake. Kyrou got to that loose puck due to Brayden Schenn hooking Kerfoot, but there was no call on the play. Shortly after the Blues made it 3-1, the Leafs answered back with a goal of their own as William Nylander let an absolute bomb fly from the point that Binnington didn’t have a chance on for Nylander’s 22nd goal of the year. Auston Matthews assisted on the goal giving him his 500th career point as a Maple Leaf, making him the fastest player in Leafs history to reach that mark in just 445 games. Darryl Sittler held the record before who reached the 500 point milestone in 517 games.
Worth noting that Rasmus Sandin fell awkwardly into the dasher board, which forced Sandin to leave the game. This was Sandin’s first game back from a neck injury. Sandin did return to the game. He received some stitches above his right eye as a result of falling into the dasher. The Blues got in on the forecheck as Neighbours laid a heavy hit on Giordano, resulting in a turnover that saw former Leaf beating Samsonov, restoring the Blues two goal lead. Literally seconds after the Leivo goal, the Leafs responded with another goal of their own as Michael Bunting was right on the doorstep to bury his 12th goal of the year. Just a minute after that, the Blues struck yet again as Brandon Saad scored his second of the game to make it 5-3. That was three goals in 77 seconds. Both teams would continue exchanging goals as Auston Matthews rifled a laser top corner for his 19th goal of the year, making it a 5-4 game. The Leafs continued to press as John Tavares made a fantastic play to find a wide-open Calle Järnkrok, who came very close to tying the game but was unable to do so. The Blues would keep their one goal lead intact after two periods of play. Shots on goal in the middle frame were 13-8 in favor of the Blues. TOI leader for the blue and white after 40 minutes was Morgan Rielly with 14:38.
The Leafs spent the first couple minutes of the third period in the Blues zone generating chances. Bunting was decked in front of the Blues goal with the puck nowhere to be seen, and there was no call on the play. Then Matthews was slashed a couple of times by Schenn, and again, there was no call. To say the officiating was questionable in this one would be an understatement. The Leafs dominated the first seven minutes of the third period, as the majority of the play was spent in the Blues zone. The Leafs were finally able to draw a penalty as Robert Thomas cross-checked/high sticked Bunting in the face. So far, the Leafs have had two power play opportunities but have come up empty-handed both times. This time however, the Leafs made no mistake as Michael Bunting scored his 13th of the year, second of the night, to tie this game up 5-5. A great pass from William Nylander to find Bunting in the slot. With five minutes remaining in regulation, it continued to be all Leafs as they dominated the Blues through the first 15 minutes. The final seconds would tick away in regulation with the game still tied 5-5. A week ago, these two teams also went to overtime, which ended in a gorgeous game-winning goal from William Nylander. Shots on goal in the third period were 7-4 in favor of the Leafs. TOI leader after 60 minutes of play was Morgan Rielly with 22:14.
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe elected to go with Kämpf, Liljegren, and Brodie to start overtime. The Leafs held possession of the puck for the first two full minutes of overtime. Finally, the Blues gained possession of the puck, and Samsonov was forced to come up with a couple of fantastic pad saves. Overtime solved nothing, so this high-octane, back-and-forth game would have to be solved via the dreadful shootout. I can’t be the only one who wants to get rid of the shootout and extend the length of overtime. Nylander shot first for the Leafs, and he chose to deke but lost the handle on the puck. First up for the Blues was Jordan Kyrou, but Samsonov said no as he flashed the leather. Second up for the Leafs was Auston Matthews, who made it look way too easy as he deked the jock off of Binnington. Robert Thomas shot second for the Blues and made no mistake in beating Samsonov. Third up for the Leafs was Mitch Marner, who one-upped Matthews with an even nicer move to beat Binnington. Third up for the Blues was Buchnevich, who made no mistake. The Leafs elected to go with Rasmus Sandin fourth, who Binnington stopped. Brayden Schenn shot fourth for the Blues, who made no mistake sealing the 6-5 shootout victory for the Blues.
Tonight’s Three Stars
- Brandon Saad – 2 Goals
- Michael Bunting – 2 Goals, 1 Assist
- Brayden Schenn – 1 Goal, 1 Assist (Shootout Winner)
The Leafs are back in action Thursday night as they host the Seattle Kraken! It will mark the Kraken’s first trip to Toronto in their young franchise’s history.
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