Merry Christmas, kids.
In their first Next Gen game of the season, the Maple Leafs roared down the chimney and stuffed children’s stockings with a thrilling victory on Monday afternoon, beating the Carolina Hurricanes 8-6 in a wildly entertaining affair at Scotiabank Arena.
Follow the bouncing puck: The Leafs had an early 3-0 lead, gave up five goals in a row, were down 6-4 in the third period and then scored four in a row to take an improbable victory before a crowd of 19,176.
“New Year’s Eve, I think,” goaltender Frederik Andersen said when he was asked what he saw from his end as the Leafs mounted an otherwise unbelievable comeback. “Fireworks everywhere and it looked pretty. Incredible.”
A five-point night by Mitch Marner — tying his career high — was among the twinkling ornaments the Leafs put on their 11th win in 15 games under coach Sheldon Keefe.
Captain John Tavares set a team record when he had three points — two assists and a goal — in the opening five minutes 10 seconds, the quickest three points to start a game in Leafs history.
It was the Leafs’ first eight-goal game since Dec. 19, 2017, when they beat Carolina 8-1 in a similar afternoon game in Toronto.
Toronto enters the Christmas break with 44 points, entrenching them in second place in the Atlantic Division, and turkey dinner suddenly will taste a lot better on Wednesday.
Marner and Auston Matthews, playing on a line with Zach Hyman, were the catalysts as the Hurricanes’ two-goal lead evaporated.
A span of 59 seconds, starting at 11:01 of the third, sent the Leafs into the break with a cup of cheer and no lumps of coal.
Matthews made like Marner and hit No. 16 with a cross-ice spinorama pass, with Marner one-timing a shot past Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek.
At 11:54, Marner spotted Tyson Barrie in the slot and it was 6-6 when Barrie moved to his backhand to beat Mrazek.
Six seconds after the faceoff, Marner scored again. Marner’s ability to anticipate the next play has few equals in the National Hockey League, and so it was that Marner leapt from the circle, intercepted defenceman Trevor van Riemsdyk’s pass to Jake Gardiner and swept in on Mrazek, scoring on a forehand deke.
“Our adrenaline is pumping, our hearts are pumping, you’re fired up,” Marner said of the outburst. “The first one was a great pass by Matty, the second one a great play by Barrie to find that open spot and make that move. The third one I jumped through and saw their D-man have it, saw their other D-man folding out, and tried to get it. Lucky enough, I picked it off, got down the ice and was able to score.”
Lucky? We beg to differ, Mitch.
On goals by Jason Spezza, William Nylander and Tavares early in the first, the Leafs appeared to be well on their way.
But when Tavares chased starter James Reimer — the ex-Leaf was gone in favour of Mrazek after allowing three goals on seven shots — the Hurricanes recovered and took over.
Goals by Brock McGinn (shorthanded) and Martin Necas in the first period cut the Leafs lead to one heading into the intermission. Carolina picked up the theme in the second — getting three from Necas, Erik Haula and Andrei Svechnikov in a span of 64 seconds starting at 15:09 — as it took advantage of several Leafs defensive miscues to go up 5-3.
Matthews stemmed the flow at 2:35 of the third with his 24th goal; Haula scored his second at 5:58, and the air was sucked out of the building again.
But wait. Marner and Matthews took over. Pierre Engvall scored into an empty net with 1:40 remaining.
The Leafs’ comeback came 24 hours after the Toronto Raptors stunned the Dallas Mavericks, rallying from a 23-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win.
So, yes indeed, Merry Christmas from your friends at MLSE.
“Guys just believe in themselves,” Tavares said. “I think it’s huge. But I think when we move forward we know a lot of (the manner in which the Leafs won) wasn’t the recipe for the success in the long term. You have to find ways to win. It’s not always pretty.”
Keefe had no trouble peering at the victory in the bigger picture.
“We need wins, we need points,” Keefe said. “You give up the lead and the nature some of the goals (against), you don’t feel great about them.
“But we can’t forget about the good things that we did. We scored seven plus an empty netter and we had a terrific start against a very good team that we knew was going to come back.
“I think it’s part of our growth and trying to figure things out. That’s partially the reason why I didn’t call a timeout in that second period. It was a good time for our team to sort themselves out. I don’t really know in that second period that we did, but we found a way and our best players made big time plays.”
The Leafs are off until Friday night, when they take on the Devils in New Jersey.
They’re going to enjoy the break. No reason that Leafs Nation, with the way Keefe has this team going, shouldn’t either.
Maple Leafs' goalie Petr Mrazek exits with groin injury vs. Senators – The Athletic
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Petr Mrazek exited after the second period of a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday with what the team called a groin injury. The team had no further update on his status after the game.
Mrazek went down awkwardly on the final shot of the period from Ottawa’s Victor Mete, then hobbled down the tunnel at the end of the period. Mrazek made 26 saves but allowed three first-period goals. Jack Campbell came on for the Leafs in goal to start the third period.
Mrazek, 29, was making his debut with the Leafs after signing a three-year deal in the offseason.
(Photo: Chris Tanouye / Getty Images)
Umpire's 'Blown' Check-Swing Call Ends Epic Dodgers-Giants Series And Stuns Fans – Yahoo
The Giants’ Wilmer Flores struck out on what many believed was a blown check-swing call by first base umpire Gabe Morales. The out preserved the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory in Game 5 on Thursday, allowing the team to advance to the National League Championship Series against Atlanta.
The chances of a Giants rally appeared dim at the time. The count was 0-2, there were two outs, a runner on first, and three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer was pitching. Not to mention that Flores had never gotten a hit off Scherzer before, the San Francisco Chronicle noted.
But the anticlimactic ending to the momentous playoff clash between the historic rivals angered fans. Reporters and Major Leaguers, including the New York Mets’ Kevin Pillar (a former Giant), chimed in, too.
Check out the reactions of what some called “the check swing heard round the world.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
Cardinals acquire Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz from Eagles – Sportsnet.ca
The undefeated Arizona Cardinals have added another weapon to their arsenal.
The Cardinals, who are the only 5-0 team in the NFL, acquired three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz from the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday for cornerback Tay Gowan and a 2022 fifth-round draft pick.
Ertz played with the Eagles since they selected him in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He set an NFL record for most receptions by a tight end in a single season with 116 catches and also had a career-high 1,163 yards during the 2018 season. Ertz, who was selected to the Pro Bowl three consecutive years from 2017-19, caught the game-winning touchdown during Super Bowl LII to help the Eagles defeat the New England Patriots 41-33 and capture their first Super Bowl.
“Zach Ertz built a special legacy in Philadelphia,” Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. “Talented, tough, and passionate, he helped to establish our team’s culture and played a vital role in our success over the years.
“Zach created so many memories that will live on forever, from setting numerous franchise and league records, to reaching across the end zone for the game-winning touchdown in our first-ever Super Bowl championship. He will always be a member of the Eagles family, not only because of what he accomplished on the field, but also because of the wonderful person, dedicated leader, and exemplary role model that he was for nine seasons in Philadelphia. We wish Zach and Julie nothing but the best.”
The 30-year-old Ertz has 18 receptions for 189 yards and two touchdowns in six games this season. Philadelphia lost 28-22 Thursday night to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Ertz hauling in a touchdown catch.
The Cardinals play the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
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