Maple Leafs win a thriller over Penguins, clinch last playoff spot
Needing a win to clinch a playoff spot, the Toronto Maple Leafs prevailed in perhaps one of the craziest and dramatic games of this NHL season.
They’re off to the Stanley Cup tournament, following a 5-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. They secure a playoff spot in Game No. 81 of their season, against No. 81 Phil Kessel. Coincidence? Yes.
But let’s take it from the top:
-- Kessel, facing his old team, opened the scoring to quiet the crowd at the Air Canada Centre. The Leafs answered right back 29 seconds later on a goal from James van Riemsdyk.
-- Toronto’s starting goalie Frederik Andersen left the game in the second period and didn’t return after Tom Sestito cut in front of the net and caught Andersen in the head with his hip. Curtis McElhinney came off the bench to replace Andersen -- in the biggest game of the season.
-- Jake Guentzel gave the Penguins the lead early in the third period. The puck deflected off two Toronto players, including Jake Gardiner in front, to get through McElhinney.
-- With just over five minutes remaining in regulation, the Maple Leafs tied the game on Kasperi Kapanen’s first career NHL goal. Perfect timing.
-- Connor Brown scored his 20th goal of the season and the eventual winner less than three minutes later. Just like that, Toronto was in the lead, exactly where they need to be.
-- McElhinney made a potential season-saving stop against Crosby, flashing the left pad on a one-timer attempt from the league’s leading goal scorer with 48 seconds left. Crosby had another shot from almost the identical spot on the ice with 10 seconds left, but his attempt was blocked.
-- Auston Matthews then picked up the puck off that blocked Crosby shot and fired it into the open Penguins net to secure the win. That’s goal No. 40 of his impressive rookie season. He’s the first player since Alex Ovechkin to hit that mark in his debut season. That gave the youthful Maple Leafs three goals in the final 5:30 of the third period. Crazy.
And now the Maple Leafs await word on the status of Andersen. There was no update during the game.