Video: TOR@CAR: Brown shovels home great feed from JVR
1. After scoreless first period, Brown converts slick feed from van Riemsdyk to give Leafs first lead. Toronto was playing its second game in as many nights after losing to Ottawa at Air Canada Centre Saturday, but the Leafs weathered a storm from Carolina in the opening period - they were outshot 15-8 by the Hurricanes in the first 20 minutes - and just 1:07 into the second frame, winger Connor Brown scored the first goal of the game and his 13th of the season.
Brown buried a shot at close range on Canes netminder Cam Ward after a terrific saucer pass from winger James van Riemsdyk, but Toronto wouldn't have had the opportunity to take the lead if goalie Curtis McElhinney hadn't made a phenomenal stop at the other end of the on the preceding play. The entire sequence was a true team effort, and gave the Leafs the advantage despite Carolina playing well and pressuring them.
Video: TOR@CAR: Matthews pots fantastic goal while falling
2. Matthews nets highlight-reel goal to put Buds ahead by two. After McElhinney continued making tremendous stops to keep Toronto in the lead, centre Auston Matthews made it 2-0 for the visitors on an incredible individual effort that saw him drive to the net with a defender on his back, draw a delayed penalty, take the puck to his backhand while falling to the ice, and push it between the legs of Ward and into the net at the 9:53 mark of the second.
The goal - Matthews' team-leading 28th of the year - is going to be seen on highlight reels for some time to come, as it illustrated what an electric, focused talent the rookie is. But in a crucial game, it had more importance because it gave the Leafs a better advantage over the Hurricanes, who outshot Toronto 30-20 through two periods.
Video: TOR@CAR: Gardiner snaps tricky wrister past Ward
3. Gardiner extends Toronto's advantage early in third. Defenceman Jake Gardiner has been enjoying a stellar season with the Leafs, and he continued putting up points Sunday when he fired a shot from the point that eluded Ward on the short side and scored his eighth goal of the season at 6:10 of the third to give his team a 3-0 advantage.
Gardiner is now two goals shy of tying his career high of 10 (set in the 2013-14 campaign), and he added two assists Sunday to give him 28 points this year, leaving him three shy of equalling his career best of 31 points (first set in 2013-14, then matched last season). The 26-year-old's all-around game has grown this year, but he's now Toronto's top points-producing blueliner (moving ahead of Nikita Zaitsev, who has 26), and head coach Mike Babcock no doubt appreciates the offensive assistance from him as well.
Video: TOR@CAR: Brown finishes feed from JVR for second goal
4. Brown's second goal of the night a carbon copy of his first. With winger Mitch Marner out of the lineup, Brown has moved onto a line with van Riemsdyk and centre Tyler Bozak, and Brown showed why it's a good fit when he scored a virtually identical goal at 8:09 of the third to increase the Leafs' lead to 4-0: van Riemsdyk threaded another perfect pass to Brown, who tapped it in and sent Ward to the bench in favour of backup Eddie Lack.
Brown hadn't scored in his previous seven games, but this was his second two-goal performance of the year - the first came against Florida on Nov. 17 - and the second of his NHL career. The 23-year-old is part of a young Leafs core that can hurt an opponent in many ways, and the native Torontonian's value should only increase from here.
Video: TOR@CAR: McElhinney controls the scramble in front
5. McElhinney steps up, stands out for first shutout as a Leaf. McElhinney was playing in his sixth game as a Leaf since being acquired in January on waivers from Columbus, and the 33-year-old was tremendous, turning aside all 37 Hurricanes shots he faced to record the fifth career shutout of his NHL career - and the first since Jan. 2, 2014 - and help lead Toronto to a crucial victory.
McElhinney didn't have as much work in the third period, as the Leafs outshot Carolina 10-6, but without his efforts in the first and second frames, the story could've been drastically different. Toronto now heads home to play three games at Air Canada Centre this week - against Winnipeg Tuesday, the New York Rangers Thursday, and Montreal Saturday - and although McElhinney may not play in any of them, he did precisely what a No. 2 netminder is supposed to do: put forth a strong showing when called upon.