MARNER, LEAFS HAVE TREMENDOUS START TO "NEXT GEN" GAME
The Maple Leafs were playing a weekday game with an extremely rare 2 p.m. start, and it was for good reason - the organization was putting on its very first "Next Gen" Game, celebrating the youngsters who'll be carrying their love of the sport into the years to come. And the Buds immediately gave the thousands of kids in attendance something to cheer for, when winger Mitch Marner broke into Minnesota's zone off the opening faceoff and put a backhanded shot past Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk for a 1-0 Leafs lead just seven seconds into the period:
Video: MIN@TOR: Marner nets a backhander seven seconds in
Marner tied a Leafs franchise record for fastest goal to start a game - the other Leaf to do so was franchise icon Charlie Conacher in 1932 against the Boston Bruins - but he wasn't done putting up points in the opening frame. Indeed, at the 5:38 mark of the first, Marner was part of a 3-on-2 Toronto rush, and he and centre John Tavares played a quick game of give-and-go that resulted in Marner scoring his second of the game and his 15th of the season:
Video: MIN@TOR: Marner cashes in off a feed from Tavares
Tavares earned the primary assist on Marner's second goal, as well as the secondary assist on Marner's first goal. And although Minnesota controlled the second half of the first period - outshooting Toronto 19-10 in the period - new Leafs goalie Michael Hutchinson (recalled from the Marlies on an emergency basis to replace injured netminder Garret Sparks) stopped all but one shot and the Buds carried a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
WILD PUSH BACK IN SECOND PERIOD, TIE GAME HEADING INTO THIRD FRAME
Toronto was still outshot in the second period, but only by a 12-11 margin; and that stat reflected the fact that both teams had a number of solid scoring opportunities. But, unlike their goal total in the first frame, the Leafs were outscored 2-1 in the second and wound up tied 3-3 entering the third.
However, of particular note in the second was Toronto's third goal of the night: it was scored at the 8:16 mark by winger William Nylander, who netted his first of the season. Nylander, who was playing in his 12th game of the year, took a pass from linemate Auston Matthews behind Minnesota's net, curled around and fired a pinpoint shot up over Dubnyk:
Video: MIN@TOR: Nylander nets his first goal of the season
Although the Wild scored the first and last goal of the second period, Nylander's marker was an emotional high point for him as an individual. But Toronto needed to tighten up its defensive game entering the final frame, as it was clear the Wild was putting the puck at Hutchinson as often as possible.
WILD SCORE GO-AHEAD MARKER EARLY IN THIRD; LEAFS PRESSURE, BUT CAN'T GET GAME-TYING GOAL
Despite catching up to and overtaking the Wild in the shot department in the third period - eventually outshooting Minnesota 41-34 in the game - the Leafs found themselves trailing 4-3 at the 4:21 mark of the period on a Zach Parise goal. Toronto forced Minnesota into taking two minor penalties, but Dubnyk was strong and turned aside all shots he saw in the third to hand the Buds their second straight loss.
The Leafs' next opportunity to get back in the win column comes Saturday, when they host the Vancouver Canucks. If they can get 40 shots on net again and play with the sustained pressure they showed in the third period Thursday, they'll have a better-than-average chance to win.