JVR helps Leafs top Preds in shootout
Andersen makes big saves during tight game in T.O.
That’s how a hockey team guts out a victory.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, with little room to manoeuvre at every turn, outlasted the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night, getting the deciding goal in a shootout from James van Riemsdyk to beat the 2017 Stanley Cup finalists 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre.
Frederik Andersen was terrific in net and Kasperi Kapanen continued to strengthen his hold on a full-time roster spot as the Leafs won for the sixth time in seven games.
It wasn’t easy. Before a crowd of 18,878, the experienced Predators were tough on the Leafs all night. Andersen finished with 44 saves.
Andersen made a win-saving stop on Ryan Johansen with just over a minute to play in regulation, thwarting the Preds forward on a wraparound.
Van Riemsdyk was the 13th shooter in the skills competition, and beat Pekka Rinne to the stick side.
Andersen then stopped Viktor Arvidsson to ensure the victory.
It was another tough night for Auston Matthews. He did little on offence, generating next to nothing at even strength.
The Leafs carried a 2-1 lead into the third period, but it was gone before most fans were back from the concessions. Arvidsson capitalized on Toronto’s inability to clear the puck and beat Andersen with a quick, low shot at the 25-second mark.
Kapanen has been giving the Leafs bursts of energy since being recalled from the Toronto Marlies on Jan. 29, and we saw that effort at work midway through the second period.
With Connor Brown serving just his fifth minor of the season, Kapanen chipped the puck past a sprawling P.K. Subban at the Leafs blue-line and raced to get a breakaway.
Nashville’s Craig Smith caught up to Kapanen, but the Leaf maintained control of the puck. Kapanen spun and beat Pekka Rinne between the legs with a forehand, stunning the Predators.
It was Kapanen’s fourth goal in 13 games with the Leafs in 2017-18, and it was the Leafs’ fourth shorthanded goal.
If Matt Martin gets back into the Leafs lineup, it can’t be at the expense of Kapanen, whose speed is unmatched by just about all of his teammates.
Leafs coach Mike Babcock didn’t exactly go out on a limb after the morning skate when he said “I don’t imagine there will be a lot of space.”
Sure enough, neither team could crack through the neutral zone through the first 10 minutes of the game. Shots on goal were 2-2.
The 21st goal of the season for van Riemsdyk came at 16:06 of the first to give Toronto a 1-0 lead thanks to some diligence by Brown, who outmuscled Subban and passed to van Riemsdyk. The latter’s shot from the slot appeared to hit defenceman Alexei Emelin, enough to fool Rinne.
Nashville finally scored late in the second period when Sissons took advantage of a bounce and one-timed the puck past Andersen. A shot hit van Riemsdyk in the back of the head and dropped to Sissons, who fired it in at 18:10.