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game recap

Maple Leafs clinch playoff berth with late goal

Connor Brown breaks tie against Penguins, Auston Matthews adds 40th

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Correspondent

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs clinched their second Stanley Cup Playoff berth since 2004 with a 5-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Air Canada Centre on Saturday. 

"I'm proud of the guys, I'm excited for the guys, they've done a real good job," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "I told the coaches at the start of the year [that] if we got in, it was going to be tomorrow in game 82. So we got in one game ahead of schedule, but to be honest with you, I didn't know the kids could be this good."

Connor Brown deflected a shot from Jake Gardiner over the glove of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with 2:48 left in the third period to give Toronto a 4-3 lead.

 

WATCH: All Penguins vs. Maple Leafs highlights

 

"That's a night I'm sure I'll remember for a long time," Brown said. "It was cool for that one to come off my stick. But the way we stuck with it, to give one up going down in the third and to battle back, a huge goal from [Kasperi Kapanen] too. It was just a real awesome night."

Kapanen scored his first NHL goal at 14:30 to tie it 3-3. Kapanen, playing his 16th NHL game, was acquired from the Penguins in the trade involving Phil Kessel on July 1, 2015.

"Obviously it was something special," Kapanen said. "Can't be a better time to score than to tie it up against your old club. It feels pretty good."

Auston Matthews scored his 40th goal of the season, into an empty net with four seconds left, to make it 5-3.

Video: PIT@TOR: Matthews seals crucial win with empty-netter

Toronto goalie Curtis McElhinney made 12 saves, including one in the final minute on Sidney Crosby, after replacing Frederik Andersen at 2:01 of the second period. Andersen was bumped in the head by Penguins forward Tom Sestito and left the game. 

Toronto (40-26-15) last made the playoffs in the shortened 2012-13 season.

Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead at 6:11 of the first period when Kessel ended a 10-game goal drought by beating Andersen with a wrist shot to the blocker side. It was Kessel's first point against Toronto for Pittsburgh.

James van Riemsdyk scored 29 seconds later to tie it 1-1. Tyler Bozak scored a tap-in after taking a cross-ice pass from William Nylander at 3:30 of the second period to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. 

Pittsburgh (50-20-11) responded on the power play at 7:55 when Crosby scored his NHL-leading 44th goal of the season to tie it 2-2. 

Jake Guentzel scored at 6:51 of the third period to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead. His shot went off Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner's skate past McElhinney. 

Toronto is tied with the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division with one game remaining. The Maple Leafs' win completed the Eastern Conference playoff field and eliminated the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning from contention.

If Toronto gets at least one point against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, it will play the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference First Round. If Toronto loses in regulation, it will play the Washington Capitals.

Pittsburgh will play Columbus in the first round. The playoffs begin Wednesday; the schedule will be announced Sunday.

 

Goal of the game

Maple Leafs defenseman Matt Hunwick pinched to keep the puck in and shot it around the boards. Gardiner controlled the puck at the left point and took a wrist shot that was deflected by Brown at the top of the left faceoff circle for his 20th goal of the season. 

Video: PIT@TOR: Brown roofs perfect deflection late in 3rd

 

Save of the game

With 48 seconds left in the third period, McElhinney slid across to his left and stretched out his pad to stop Crosby's one-timer from the bottom of the right faceoff circle to keep the Maple Leafs ahead. 

"I could see someone out of the corner of my eye, I wasn't quite aware of who it was in particular," McElhinney said. "It was a hard pass across and he didn't have a lot of time to get it up, so it was just important for me to get that low coverage."

Video: PIT@TOR: McElhinney robs Crosby to preserve late lead

 

Highlight of the game

Van Riemsdyk knocked down the puck at the blue line and skated into the zone before cutting around Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz and putting a wrist shot high to Fleury's glove-side.

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

 
 
Unsung performance of the game

Hunwick lead the Maple Leafs with three blocked shots and assisted on Brown's game-winning goal.

 

They said it

"It's obviously very exciting for us. It's kind of funny, I thought the game was a representation of our season where there were some bumps in the road, we responded, and we kept playing and got contributions from everyone up and down the lineup." -- Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk

 

"Obviously they needed the game a lot more than we did, so they came out hard and they got a couple of good breaks. It is what it is." -- Penguins forward Phil Kessel

 

Video: PIT@TOR: Kessel rifles opening goal past Andersen

 

Need to know

Babcock had no update on Andersen. "We'll know tomorrow. Ideally he'll start tomorrow," Babcock said. … Matthews is the 16th NHL rookie to score 40 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau; it is the most by a rookie since Alex Ovechkin scored 52 for the Capitals in 2005-06. … Defensemen Chad Ruhwedel and Brian Dumoulin; forwards Nick Bonino, Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist; and goalie Matt Murray were healthy scratches for the Penguins.

 

What's next

Penguins: At the New York Rangers on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; MSG, ROOT, NHL.TV)

Maple Leafs: Host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday (6 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SN, FS-O, NHL.TV)

 

Video: Brown's late goal propels Maple Leafs into playoffs

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