1. With both sides playing the night before, scoreless first period was understandable. Both the Leafs and the Red Wings were playing their second game in as many nights, and both were coming into Detroit off the road Sunday, so it was understandable that neither team looked especially energized in the first period. Now, that isn't to say there was no action of note - Toronto outshot the home team 15-12 in the first 20 minutes, and netminders Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney had to work to ensure they didn't surrender the first goal, but there was no particular sense of urgency. Maybe that was because each side was feeling out the other, but maybe it was because their work the previous evening was taking a toll on their bodies and the pace and crispness of play slowed down because of it.
Video: TOR@DET: van Riemsdyk scores on deflection off leg
2. Red Wings strike first with power play marker, but Leafs tie it up almost immediately on van Riemsdyk goal. The Buds hadn't allowed a power play goal in any of their previous five games, but that streak came to an end at the 5:51 mark of the second period: Detroit had been awarded the first man advantage of the night 1:46 earlier, and Wings winger Anthony Mantha deflected in a shot from winger Gustav Nyquist for his 20th goal of the year and a 1-0 lead.
Despite giving up the first goal of the night for the second consecutive game, the Leafs shook off Mantha's goal in very short order: one minute and 11 seconds later, to be exact, when winger James van Riemsdyk deflected blueliner Jake Gardiner's shot into Detroit's net for his 24th goal of the season and his fourth goal in his last six games. Few NHLers are more consistently adept at the art of the tip-in than van Riemsdyk, who moved within six goals of tying his career-best total of 30 (scored in 80 games of the 2013-14 campaign).
Video: TOR@DET: Marner waits out Mrazek to wire home wrister
3. Thanks to Marner's puck patience, Toronto takes first lead in even shorter order than they answered Wings' first goal. The Leafs have become known for their rapid-bursts of offence, and they showed where that reputation is coming from just seven seconds after van Riemsdyk's goal: after taking a pass from linemate Nazem Kadri, winger Mitch Marner skated backward with the puck and held it just long enough for Mrazek to move out of his comfort zone in the crease; Marner's puck patience resulted in a good deal of open net to choose from, and the sophomore NHLer did not miss on his shot, registering his 14th goal of the year and puttting Toronto ahead 2-1 at the 7:20 mark of the second.
Marner's goal was his sixth in eight games and his 46th point of the year, moving him one point ahead of winger William Nylander for second spot on the Leafs in that department. The 20-year-old has been playing his best hockey of the year of late and his confidence with the puck is readily apparent.
4. Wings amp up pressure on Buds in third, get game-tying goal from Zetterberg. The Wings were outshot by the Leafs 27-20 through the first 40 minutes, but it was a different Detroit squad that took to the ice in the third. The home team held Toronto to only five shots in the first 18 minutes of the frame, and got nine on McElhinney in that span - and Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg scored on one of them to pull his team even with the Leafs at the 9:17 mark. And in a pattern familiar to longtime hockey-watchers, the goal came almost directly after the goal-scoring team got an outstanding defensive play out of its goaltender.
In this case, Zetterberg netted his eighth goal of the year just seconds after Mrazek thwarted winger Zach Hyman on a breakaway. The save infused the Wings with a jolt of energy, and that jolt, combined with a Leafs defensive breakdown, led to Zetterberg being left all alone to the right of McElhinney's net. The longtime star had an easy time tapping in the game-tying marker, and both teams battled in the final half of the third to record the next goal. They weren't coming easily, and with just 10 minutes left in regulation, there was a sense the fifth goal of the evening would be the final one.
Video: TOR@DET: Matthews roofs go-ahead goal in final minute
5. Matthews-Nylander-Hyman line combines to put Toronto ahead with 30 seconds left; Leafs hang on to get back in win column as they head home. The game appeared as if it were heading to overtime, but with 30 seconds left, the line of centre Auston Matthews and winger William Nylander and Zach Hyman all combined to produce the game-winner.
Hyman began the scoring sequence by battling a pair of Detroit defenders deep in the Wings' zone. He freed up the puck for Nylander, who quickly carried it toward the net to the left of Mrazek, and the puck moved out to Matthews, who was situated to Mrazak's right. Matthews found a way to score at an extremely tight angle, and his goal was his team-leading 27th goal of the year. Nylander's primary assist was his 32nd of the season, moving him into a three-way tie with
Marner and Gardiner (who had the primary assist on van Riemsdyk's goal) for first on the team in helpers. And Hyman's assist was his 20th of the season; the sophomore aleady has set new career marks in goals (11 this season, beating his 10-goal output in 2016-17); assists (20 this year, beating the 18 he posted last season) and points (31 this year, compared to the 28 he amassed in 82 games) and the best part? They all have 21 more regular-season games to improve upon those totals.
Matthews' game winner put Toronto back on the scoring side of the ledger, and gave his team condifence as they turn their attention to a Tuesday tilt with the visiting Florida Panthers at ACC Tuesday. The Panthers are on the periphery of the Atlantic Division's playoff face and had won three in a row on their current road swing, but were losing to Winnipeg in the third period Saturday; regardless of whether they win or lose, the Cats will be desperate for a win Tuesday as they continue jockeying for a wild card playoff berth. The Leafs need to improve their period-to-period consistency, but if they can get different lines stepping up and solid showings from the defense corps, they should be able to put themselves in a position to emerge victorious.