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Five Takeaways - Leafs vs. Penguins - 04/08/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday at Air Canada Centre:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

JVR's incredible goal

PIT@TOR: JVR bats down puck, buries laser past Fleury

James van Riemsdyk bats the puck out of midair with one hand on his stick, then gains control and wires a wrister past Marc-Andre Fleury

  • 00:49 •

1. Leafs fall behind first, but van Riemsdyk's terrific goal seconds later pulls them even. This was as big a game as the Leafs have played all season - a win would secure a playoff berth for them - but the game did not start ideally, as Pittsburgh winger Phil Kessel scored the first goal of the night at 6:11. However, just 29 seconds later, Toronto winger James van Riemsdyk corralled a loose puck as he moved across the Penguins blueline, and quickly snapped it past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to record his 27th goal of the year and pull the Leafs even.

Toronto dominated the opening frame in terms of possession, and nearly came close to taking the lead on a few occasions - most notably, when winger William Nylander hit the post - but although the Leafs outshot the Pens 9-4, they entered the first intermission in a tie.

Video: PIT@TOR: Bozak buries Nylander's nifty feed for PPG

2. After injury to Andersen, Leafs take first lead of the night on Bozak power play marker. Leafs fans held their collective breath after Penguins winger Tom Sestito skated into goalie Frederik Andersen, forcing Toronto's goalie out of the game in favour of backup Curtis McElhinney at 2:01 of the second period. But the Buds' power play made the most of the ensuing man advantage, as winger William Nylander set up centre Tyler Bozak with a beautiful pass that led to Bozak's 18th goal of the season at the 3:30 mark and a 2-1 Leafs lead.

The Leafs' power play unit has been one of the NHL's best throughout the year, and at a particularly emotional moment in the contest, they delivered what was dearly needed.

3. Penguins get power play goal of their own as Crosby ties it up in second period. The Penguins' power play is nearly as proficient as the Leafs' - Toronto was ranked second in the league with the man advantage at 24.1 percent prior to Saturday's action, while Pittsburgh was fifth-best at 22.9 percent - and, on their first power play of the game, the Pens tied the score at two goals apiece thanks to captain Sidney Crosby, who netted his 44th of the season at the 7:55 mark of the second period.

Crosby doesn't need a power play to produce offence - 30 of his goals have come at even-strength - but the Leafs didn't do themselves any good by giving him and the Penguins opportunities with an extra attacker.

Video: PIT@TOR: Kapanen ties game with first NHL goal 

4. Penguins take lead on unfortunate bounce, but Kapanen nets first-ever NHL goal at crucial time to even the score. Pittsburgh was the beneficiary of an unfortunate Leafs bounce at 6:51 of the third when centre Jake Guentzel's shot from near the boards hit Buds blueliner Jake Gardiner and trickled past McElhinney. But Toronto continued to press as the period went on, and they were rewarded for it when D-man Matt Hunwick made a slick cross-ice pass to winger Kasperi Kapanen, who knocked the puck into the net for his first-ever NHL goal and a 3-3 tie at the 14:30 mark.

Kapanen has been one of the American League Marlies' best players this season and late last year, and the 20-year-old couldn't have picked a better moment to record his first goal in hockey's best league. He couldn't hide the emotion on his face, and the ACC crowd was as loud as they've been in years in appreciation of the timeliness of his offensive contribution.

That said, the Leafs still needed some timely stops from McElhinney to keep the Penguins from striking again - and McElhinney delivered his finest stop in a Toronto uniform when he moved from his right to his left and jutted out his pad to stop Crosby from putting in what looked to be a sure goal. Kapanen and others gave the Buds the offence they'd been missing in their two-game losing streak, but McElhinney did his part at the other end to ensure they'd have a chance to win.

Video: PIT@TOR: Brown roofs perfect deflection late in 3rd
 
5. Brown puts Buds ahead late, Matthews scores empty-netter to seal win - and a playoff spot - for the Leafs. The Buds were the more dominant team on the puck throughout the night - they outshot Pittsburgh 30-18 in total - and with 2:48 left in regulation time, winger Connor Brown fired a shot from high in the Pens' zone that went through traffic and by Fleury to put Toronto ahead 4-3. And with Pittsburgh's net empty for the extra man, centre Auston Matthews took control of the puck and scored his 40th of the year to seal the win - and guarantee the Leafs a playoff spot.

Brown's 20th of the season gave the Leafs five players with 20 or more goals, but most importantly, it gave the Leafs the boost they required. Matthews' marker was fitting, as he's been one of the best performers Toronto has had all season and got to the rare 40-goal plateau. But Leafs Nation was deliriously happy because their team will now play at least one series after the regular season ends Sunday with a showdown against Columbus at the ACC. 

As head coach Mike Babcock said in his pre-game interview with the media, you want your team to earn their way into the post-season. And though it was a roller-coaster evening, the Leafs earned their way into the post-season.

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