On December 15th, Mitchell Marner was held off the scoresheet by the Rangers, ending his 23-game point streak. However, the winger wouldn’t be denied again on Wednesday, as he scored the overtime winner 19 seconds into the extra frame, uplifting his Toronto Maple Leafs to a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Blueshirts at Scotiabank Arena in a nationally televised thriller.
The contest was reminiscent of the original six rivals’ previous meeting, a 3-1 Rangers win at Madison Square Garden. Both goaltenders were lights out when called upon, and depth scoring ruled the evening. Here are my takeaways from the affair:
Welcome to the NHL, kid!
Toronto native Will Cuylle played his first NHL game at the place where he fell in love with the sport. It must’ve been a dream come true for the 20-year-old, who had friends and family, including GM Chris Drury, in attendance.
However, it’s safe to say that giving up a goal differs from how Cuylle imagined the result of his maiden NHL shift, not that it was his fault.
The Leafs wasted no time and burned New York’s defenseman for pinching into the offensive zone as Pontus Holmberg roofed a backhand over Igor Shesterkin on his breakaway opportunity for the early lead a mere 2:27 into the game. While his shifts on the fourth line with Jake Leschyshyn and Julien Gauthier didn’t amount to much, Cuylle did well in throwing his body around and was credited with four hits.
As a group, the Rangers were solid in the first period and, although pinned in their end at times, defended well and created some scoring opportunities of their own, only for goaltender Ilya Samsonav, who still hasn’t lost at home in regulation this season(14-0-1), to stonewall them. Yet while Cuylle’s debut received an abundance of attention from the TNT broadcast, the Blueshirts dominated at the faceoff dot 15-6, which was something that paid off in the frame that followed.
How about those kids?
The trio of Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, and Alexis Lafreniere impressed in last year’s postseason and, although they struggled at the outset of this season, have recently found their stride again. The kids produced their second consecutive multi-goal game with two in the second period, putting the Rangers in front.
The first came 2:09 into the stanza when Chytil sent the puck on net off the draw and saw it get through a startled Samsonav to tie it. Five minutes later, the triple threat teamed up for the go-ahead score. Following a takeaway from Kakko, who used his stick for batting down an attempted pass from Marner, he dished it across to Lafreniere, who sent the puck right back after seeing his teammate shake free of the defense and was now streaking toward the net.
Kaapo then found Chytil on the right side for a low-slot putaway and a 2-1 New York advantage.
The tally was the 15th of the season for the 23-year-old, marking a new career-high and certainly will be a topic of discussion this offseason when his $2.3 million contract is up this Summer, but that is a discussion for another day.
In the here and now, the kids have quickly become men, and if the Rangers can get consistent production from the top six above them, they’ll be a problem for any opponent to handle, let alone the high-octane Maple Leafs. Chytil was also involved in the power play, where he created chances despite the unit’s 0/2 showing, negated by the performance from New York’s penalty kill where superstars Austin Mathews and John Tavares were tamed thrice.
The Rangers had their chances to close it out for a victory plane ride back to the states and couldn’t capitalize, allowing Toronto to steal one in front of their home crowd. With 4:11 remaining in regulation, Timothy Liljegren outmaneuvered Chris Kreider down low off a Tavares attempt and converted on the rebound to square the score.
It was a night Kreider would rather forget as he also missed a golden short-handed tap-in earlier in the period off a saucer feed from Mika Zibanejad and was dropped to the second line in the second period with Vincent Trocheck and Barclay Goodrow for Jimmy Vesey, who was bumped up to play with Panarin and Mika.
Having seized the momentum, Toronto pressed for the lead as Trocheck began to lose his draw battles. Luckily for him, Shesterkin made several stops down the stretch as part of his 32-save performance before receiving help from his post when Tavares rang iron at the buzzer to force overtime.
For all the 26 faceoffs the Rangers won, with one leading to a goal, they couldn’t secure the all-important puck drop at neutral ice to begin the bonus session. You could argue that Adam Fox should’ve been out there with Panarin and Zibanejad instead of K’Andre Miller, but it doesn’t take away from Marner’s magnificence.
The 25-year-old used the open ice that 3on3 hockey provides to his advantage by skating out wide to his left before fending off a Panarin stick check as he broke to the net, where he tucked the rubber past Shesterkin, sending Toronto into a frenzy.
“I thought we let them gain some speed and easy entries and generate some chances off the rush, and then they generate some secondary opportunities off that, ” Jacob Trouba said. “That’s how they got their chances, and that’s how the game-tying goal went in.”
The Rangers captain may be correct, but this was a well-played hockey game with the intensity and tenacity showcasing why these two Eastern Conference rivals are regarded as contenders for the Stanley Cup.
“I thought we played well in a tough building with a really good team against us,” Gerard Gallant said, “I want the two points, but we’ll take the one and run.” The place they’ll be running to is back home to prepare for Friday’s tilt against the Vegas Golden Knights(29-17-3) in the team’s final game before the All-Star break.