TORONTO – Another victory, another ankle injury, another big night for Mitchell Marner.
The Maple Leafs ended a perfect week of 3-0 against the Eastern Conference opponents on Saturday, dominating the series and leaving the New York Rangers 5-3 with the force of their stars.
But as was the case in Tuesday's loss in New Jersey, the victory came at the expense of a foot of confidence.
Tyler Ennis joins Zach Hyman behind the scenes, and the impending Christmas break is coming at an ideal time.
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Starting in time has been a focal point for the group, and the Leafs got that done when Patrick Marleau won an ice rink, then cleverly took home a Morgan Rielly shot in the first period.
By registering his 30th (!) Pre-holiday Attendance, Rielly increased his lead over the defenders' scoring race and now has nine points in his last four games.
"His maturation process, I've been able to see firsthand, and it's been a journey for him." Each year he adds a bit to the arsenal to make him the defender of the elite he is, "said Nazem Kadri.
"His skating ability is what stands out for me. He is able to enter the game so easily, effortlessly, and that throwing with his wrist is flawless. "
Toronto as a whole looked flawless, roaming the New York area and generating chances and second chances in first place, but unlike Tuesday in New Jersey or Thursday against Florida, the Leafs did not flood the net and they fled early.
"Especially if you're looking forward to it, they probably have the most skilled group in the league, maybe." "They're definitely moving the record well," said Henrik Lundqvist on Friday.
The Rangers were long behind the point you thought was appropriate, like the family in your block that waits until May 2-4 to bring the Christmas lights.
They killed a double penalty by Adam McQuaid and the protracted 6-on-5 that preceded him – a golden opportunity for experienced attackers to cheer all night – and goalkeeper Alexander Georgiev, superb Tuesday in a resurgent victory over Anaheim Defended a barrage of shots by Auston Matthews and John Tavares.
Neal Pionk was the beneficiary of a "good road" classic while whistling an old-fashioned, tall, clean slapper in Frederik Andersen with five minutes left in the second frame. By the end of the second, Ryan Strome, who was in the fourth row, showed an open net that could give visitors an impressive lead.
Reaching the third period in one, the pair of Six Original Squads – a rebuild, and finally no more – gave the deity piece by piece Bob Cole, calling a rare national game Saturday night in Toronto, next to soundtrack.
For fans of a certain age, it simply sounded like Christmas coming early. Oh baby.
Mitch Marner broke the tie early in the third quarter when he hit home after a decisive win over John Tavares, who set up time for offensive possession.
Then Rielly attacked in the zone to attack his 12th.
"He thinks he's in Moose Jaw again," coach Mike Babcock said. "He goes there, he's good, he's having fun."
It was only when the game appeared to be on the ice that center fielder Kevin Hayes – Rangers' most valuable racing player – doubled Filip Chytil's rebound and narrowed the gap.
Then the Tavares-to-Marner attacked again, this time Marner threw a backhand from Georgiev.
The striker, known for his initial set-up, has scored six goals in his last four games, giving him 12 in the season and breaking the typecast.
Hayes scored again late, presumably just to present us with some of Bob Cole's drama.
And Marleau lost an open net, presumably so that Marner could find it on his second night.
The Maple Leafs still have a bit of work to do before the holiday, as another hardened underdog, the Detroit Red Wings, will fly into the city on Sunday.
"We like to play here, we are comfortable, we think we have a good team. Now we have to play right, and we understand that, "Babcock said.
"Christmas – I hope everyone has a nice gift for your mother, it's a very important thing you do."