The Toronto Maple Leafs outlasted the Vegas Golden Knights 2-1 in overtime Thursday at Scotiabank Arena.
No goals were scored until the third period, when a bouncing puck made its way to Vegas’ Max Pacioretty in front of the Maple Leafs’ net.
Auston Matthews scored his 13th goal of the season on a power play four minutes later to tie the game, and the score stayed that way until John Tavares netted his first goal since returning to Toronto’s lineup from an injury.
The Leafs (21 points) leaped over the Buffalo Sabres (20 points) into second place in the Atlantic Division with the win.
Here are three takeaways from Toronto’s ninth victory of the season:
1. Frederik Andersen outdueled Malcolm Subban in goal
A 1-1 score at the end of regulation was not for a lack of trying by the offenses. The Golden Knights average roughly 34 shots on goal per game, and they surpassed that mark Thursday with 38 shots at Andersen. The Leafs challenged Subban with 37 shots in the Vegas backup’s first career start in Toronto, his hometown.
Both netminders played their best hockey when it counted most. Andersen saw only seven shots in the first period, but then 31 over the final two periods of regulation plus OT. Subban faced 10 or more shots in all three periods of regulation before going 1 for 2 on saves in overtime.
Speaking of overtime . . .
2. John Tavares is definitely back
The Maple Leafs were just 3-2-3 while the team’s captain was out with a hand injury. Tavares officially returned for the Nov. 5 game vs. the Los Angeles Kings, but Thursday felt like his real return to form.
Whether Toronto’s woes during those eight games were related to No. 91’s absence or not, having Tavares in the lineup allows the Leafs to remind fans why this club is so exciting. In addition, Tavares scored eight game-winning goals last season, so high-end performances are expected from him when the team needs them most.
That’s why, when Mitch Marner skated up the ice halfway through overtime with Tavares on his right and the pair saw William Karlsson as the only Vegas player back on a two-on-one, Scotiabank Arena erupted with anticipation. Marner made a perfect pass and Tavares buried the one-time shot past Subban for the game-winner.
Tavares registered two points and four shots on goal Thursday in 16:47 minutes of ice time.
3. Mike Babcock joins exclusive company
Babcock signed an unprecedented eight-year, $50 million contract with Toronto in 2015, and under his direction the franchise has gone from the bottom of the pile to one of the NHL’s most exciting teams. His leadership has not yet resulted in a Stanley Cup for Toronto, but Babcock took on an enormous challenge in the league’s most closely scrutinized market. So far, he’s succeeding.
Babcock, now the eighth NHL coach all time with 700 wins, could pass Lindy Ruff (736 career wins) for sixth on the list this season if the Leafs maintain a high level of play. Three other active NHL coaches are ahead of him on the all-time list: Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville (897 wins through Nov. 6), New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz (821) and Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice (703).
Scotty Bowman (1,244) holds the record for most wins in NHL history.
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