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Leafs Nearly Pull Off Major Comeback, but Fall to Blackhawks 5-4

by Adam Proteau Proteautype / MapleLeafs.com

A late rally from the Leafs, including four straight goals and a 29-shot third period, falls just short against Chicago Wednesday night.

HAWKS TAKE COMMANDING FOUR-GOAL LEAD, KEEP LEAFS OFF SCORESHEET IN OPENING PERIOD

The Maple Leafs were aiming to get back in the win column after a tough loss to Tampa Bay on Monday but the first period of Wednesday's showdown against Chicago also was a major disappointment for Toronto. The Buds were outshot 14-9 in the first 20 minutes of action at Scotiabank Arena, and four of those shots beat goaltender Frederik Andersen, giving the Blackhawks a 4-0 advantage heading into the second frame.

Three of Chicago's first-period goals came in a 5:51 span late in the frame, and the Leafs' defensive structure and reads of Chicago's rushes left much to be desired. A four-goal deficit against a Hawks team that had won three games in a row presented a serious challenge to Toronto, but they did have a number of high-quality scoring chances - Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook thwarted what looked to be a sure goal by Buds winger Connor Brown - and they've been known to score in bunches, so a comeback in the final two regulation periods wasn't out of the question. 

LEAFS PUT IN BETTER EFFORT IN SECOND, GET ON SCOREBOARD VIA JOHNSSON'S GOAL, BUT BLACKHAWKS MAINTAIN FOUR-GOAL LEAD ENTERING THIRD

Toronto head coach Mike Babcock replaced Andersen in net - putting Garret Sparks in Andersen's place - to start the second period, but the Leafs still struggled with their zone exits and attempts to create offence, and Chicago took advantage by scoring their fifth goal of the night at 12:32 of the second.

The Hawks outshot the Leafs 14-9 in the first period and 13-9 in the second, but before the middle frame ended, Toronto got on the scoreboard when winger Andreas Johnsson deflected a shot from D-man Morgan Rielly past netminder Corey Crawford for Johnsson's 20th goal of the season:

Video: CHI@TOR: Johnsson puts Maple Leafs on the board

Johnsson's goal showed the Leafs still had some fight in them. And, given that it came near the end of the middle frame, it gave the Buds a little momentum heading into the third.

LEAFS PRESSURE HAWKS IN THIRD, GET CLOSER ON MATTHEWS' GOAL 

The Buds had their best period by far in the third, outshooting Chicago 16-5 in the first 11 minutes of the frame. And Toronto took advantage of a goaltending change - Crawford fell ill in the second intermission and was replaced by Collin Delia - by scoring the first two goals of the period.

The first goal came from centre Auston Matthews, who produced his 32nd of the season at 7:57 by banking the puck off a Hawks defender and into the net:

Video: CHI@TOR: Matthews banks puck in off defender

 The second goal of the period came on a Toronto power play - on the first penalty called during the game - with blueliner Morgan Rielly's shot from the point beating Delia at 10:55:

Video: CHI@TOR: Rielly blasts home one-timer for PPG

 The Buds continued to push - outshooting the Hawks 30-12 in the period and 48-39 on the night - and they came within one goal of tying it when centre John Tavares netted his 39th of the year at the 18:29 mark:

Video: CHI@TOR: Rielly blasts home one-timer for PPG

 Unfortunately, Toronto's burst of offence wasn't enough to pull them even with the Blackhawks and force overtime. The end of the game was thrilling, but the Leafs dropped their second game in a row and will need to beat Philadelphia on Friday when the Flyers come to Scotiabank Arena. After the poor start, the Leafs showed resilience in cutting down Chicago's lead, and they'll look to build off the strong finish and carry it over on Friday.

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