With or without Willie, these Leafs are pretty good
ST. PAUL, MINN.— As word settled in that William Nylander was finally on his way to Toronto with a new contract under his arm, his Maple Leafs teammates continued to forge on without him. On Saturday, it was a date with the Minnesota Wild. The Leafs’ 27th game of the season and their 19th win, 5-3.
With or without Nylander, the Maple Leafs are pretty good. They have not flinched this season. They won without Nylander. They won for a month without Auston Matthews. Matthews is back. Nylander is coming back. They are respected and feared around the league. Maybe now even more so.
The winner and clincher:
Connor Brown powered down the wing, created chaos in the Minnesota corner and flipped the puck in front of the net. It took a lucky bounce off defenceman Nick Seeler and popped behind Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk. Nazem Kadri got credit for the goal at 16:40 of the third. Zach Hyman clinched it with 56 seconds left. It was an empty-netter, but he overpowered Ryan Suter at centre ice in a struggle for the puck to score. It was Hyman’s second goal of the night.
For the Leafs: Leaf Nation turned out in large, loud numbers and was quite vocal. The “Go Leafs Go” chant was the equal to “Let’s Go Wild.” … Matthews opened the scoring at 6:06 of the first. Tyler Ennis then enjoyed a moment of revenge, scoring at 12:19 against the team that bought him out last summer … Hyman scored at 14:33 of the second period, after Minnesota had tied it. He deflected a Mitch Marner shot from the point … Frederik An- dersen was the busier of the two goalies, robbing Wild players left and right … Marner notched two assists. The Wild were the only team Marner had failed to register a point against.
For the Wild: Eric Staal scored at 19:29 of the first, the kind of goal that can rally a team. Jordan Greenway tied it early in the second as Minnesota kept the momentum going, scoring on a two-on-one between Frederik Andersen’s pads … Jason Zucker scored midway through the third to tie the game 3-3.
Giveaways: Travis Dermott didn’t look good on Greenway’s goal, flailing at a loose puck, dropping out of the play and seeming lost on Minnesota’s ensuing two-on-one … Leafs backup goalie Garret Sparks caught a puck that went out of play. He threw it over the glass to a fan.
Gabby gabs: Before the game, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said he was happy that Nylander wasn’t in the Leafs lineup and that the contract squabble hadn’t been “resoluted” in time.
Up next: Nylander arrives on Sunday, but the team has the day off. The Leafs practise on Monday and play in Buffalo on Tuesday.