With the Toronto Maple Leafs season now suspended from the COVID-19 global crisis, during my posts for NHLTradeTalk.com, I am trying to help fans of the Canadian-based teams stay aware of news and rumors emerging from their teams. In addition, because there isn’t always news emerging, I am doing a bit of a look backward to review key aspects of the most recent 2019-20 season or during each team’s longer NHL history.
In this post, I want to review some of the key games of the Toronto Maple Leafs 2019-20 season. Specifically, I want to review what I call three compelling games that I think highlight the season for the team.
In my mind, these three games stood out as memorable during the 2019-20 season from a Maple Leafs perspective.
First, I will review the team’s first game they played the day after new head coach Sheldon Keefe replaced former head coach Mike Babcock. The Maple Leafs beat the Arizona Coyotes 3-1 on the road on Nov. 21.
Second, I will review an amazing Maple Leafs comeback against the Carolina Hurricanes when the team came back during the final period on Christmas Eve to deliver a gift to Maple Leafs fans.
Third, I will review one of the most amazing games of NHL history – also against the Hurricanes – when both the of the Hurricanes’ goalies went down to injury and Maple Leafs’ practice goalie David Ayres came into win the game in his NHL debut and only game he will probably ever play.
Game One: The Maple Leafs Victory over the Arizona Coyotes 3-1 in Keefe’s First Game as the Coach
November 21, 2019, was Sheldon Keefe’s first game as the coach of the Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs had been on a horrible 0-5-1 losing streak and, finally, on November 20 Kyle Dubas fired Mike Babcock and replaced him with Keefe. During that game, Tyson Barrie scored his first goal of the season; Pierre Engvall scored the first goal of his career; and, the prolific Auston Matthews scored in the third period as the Maple Leafs snapped their losing streak with a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
As Matthews noted, it was a “Pretty special night for a lot of guys here. And a big two points with everything that’s been going on the past couple of weeks and the past 36 hours.”
It was the team’s best game of the season and looked as I suggested as if the players were making a statement. Maple Leafs captain John Tavares gifted Keefe with the game puck in the dressing room after the game.
Game Two: The Maple Leafs Huge Comeback Against the Carolina Hurricanes
It was actually Christmas Eve, but it seemed like New Year’s Eve with, as goalie Frederik Andersen noting, “all the fireworks.” It was an amazingly thrilling game to watch on a Monday afternoon, and the result was that the Maple Leafs beat the Carolina Hurricanes 8-6 in a heart-racing victory at Scotiabank Arena.
The team had taken an early first-period 3-0 lead, then gave up five goals in a row, and were down 6-4 during the third period. Suddenly, Santa came down the chimney and the Maple Leafs scored four goals in a row for the most unbelievable comeback victory of the season. The Hurricanes were left with the proverbial lump of coal.
As I noted earlier, goalie Andersen talked about watching the scoring from his end of the ice. He likened it to “New Year’s Eve … Fireworks everywhere and it looked pretty. Incredible.” (from “Maple Leafs complete third-period comeback to improbably beat Hurricanes, Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 24/12/19)
In the game, Mitch Marner scored five points, which was his career-high. Maple Leafs captain John Tavares set a team record by scoring three points (a goal and two assists) in the opening five minutes and 10 seconds of the game. That set a Maple Leafs team record with the quickest three points to start a game in history. And, it was the team’s 11th win in 15 games under coach Keefe.
Related: Dubas Confirms Interest in Barabanov
Game Three: David Ayres Emergency Replacement Goalie Game
Even considering the two games above, no doubt the team’s most interesting game of the season was a game it didn’t win. That said, it was a game for the ages and one of the most feel-good games of any NHL season that I can recall. Interestingly, it allowed the Hurricanes some payback for their Christmas Eve loss to the Maple Leafs.
On February 22, the Carolina Hurricanes came back into town. During the first period, Hurricanes goalie James Reimer went down with an injury. Then, in the second period, the second Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek made an ill-advised attempt to poke check a puck far up ice and was clobbered by a fast-skating Kyle Clifford. Mrazek, too, was injured.
Now, with no goalies left on the team’s bench, at 11:19 of the second period an until-then, little-known Maple Leafs practice goalie and acting as emergency backup goalie David Ayres (a 42-year-old professional goalie wannabe) entered the game.
Although the Hurricanes were ahead 4-1 at the time; most believed the lead would disappear quickly when the Maple Leafs players started to throw pucks at the net. But it wasn’t at all like a practice. The Hurricanes’ defense stood tall in front of Ayres, and he made 8 saves on 10 shots to win the game.
In a game with the final score 6-3 in favor of the Hurricanes, I for one couldn’t have been happier with the outcome – even if the Maple Leafs lost. Ayres, who really seems like one of the good guys, became a celebrity and showed up on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
It was certainly the team’s most compelling game of the season.
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