Marner’s absurd goal sparks the Leafs’ comeback win over Oilers

At face value, this game was just another chance to pick up two points at Hockey Night Canada. According to broadcasters, it was a tectonic event that could have served as a precursor to this summer’s Stanley Cup finals.

In truth, Saturday’s thriller between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers surpassed all expectations, a regular-season classic that added to the monotony of Game 65 as the Maple Leafs emerged 7-4.

Mitch Marner was dropped from the marquee, a contest heralded as a showdown between reigning Hart Trophy winner in teammate Auston Matthews and this year’s putative, unanimous favorite in Connor McDavid. Marner was the Maple Leafs’ best player this season, and after the Leafs were down 3-1 that season, he intercepted a misguided pass from Ryan McLeod, dangling Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner from his cushions and awakening a sleeping giant back to life with an absolutely stunning goal.

just moments later Marner took another pass and found William Nylander with a delightful feed before Nylander was stopped by Skinner’s five hole to level the game and Scotiabank Arena hit decibel levels not heard this season.

Shortly thereafter, Auston Matthews created John Tavares to give Toronto the lead – a stretch of three goals in three minutes for the Leafs. Marner’s imprint was felt again just minutes later when he caught the attention of three Oilers defensemen, a pass from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ skates bounced off Tavares’ stick and scored his second straight goal of the contest – Marner’s third point in a span of six minutes – in what turned out to be a game winner.

In a competition full of the world’s best players and future Hall of Famers – including two teenage prodigies turned captains with identical paths to the NHL – Marner shone the brightest.

McDavid and the Oilers pushed the Maple Leafs to the limit in this game, but under Marner’s leadership, the Leafs have risen from the dead.

Here’s everything else you need to know about Saturday’s thriller in Toronto.

Three stars

1) Mitch Marner, Maple Leaves

Marner’s second-half goal brought life to a dormant Maple Leafs attack, and he was the focal point of everything his team did well on Saturday – Toronto scored three goals in three minutes to give an unassailable lead and it wouldn’t have started without Marner’s heads-up game.

“It steals it, it anticipates it, and then it’s all in one move to make the goalie bite. It’s really impressive,” said Tavares of Marner’s goal after the game.

Mitch Marner keeps finding new ways to get Maple Leafs fans out of their seats. (Getty)

Mitch Marner keeps finding new ways to get Maple Leafs fans out of their seats. (Getty)

Along with his landmark marker, Marner had three main assists while working tirelessly to intercept passes and recover pucks. as he often does. Much like Matthews and McDavid, the Oilers’ defense would panic almost every time Marner touched the puck after the first half. An outstanding performance, with a lot of competition for the top spot.

“He’s just so smart. With a high-end player like him you think what the other players are going to expect. Especially when you play as well as he does,” Matthews said of Marner after the game.

2) John Tavares, Maple Leaves

If Marner started the Maple Leafs’ onslaught, Tavares perhaps underscored the best time of the season. Tavares outplayed his counterpart McDavid and improved with every change throughout the game. Toronto’s captain scored his first of two goals after undressing Darnell Nurse and then charged to an open shooting lane. Matthews found Tavares in full swing and Stuart Skinner didn’t stand a chance.

Tavares’ silky mittens paid off again with the man advantage, redirecting an errant feed from Marner like a pinball to score his second goal of the night. He also recorded a primary assist for Matthews’ power-play goal in the third period for a clean three-point night. For this reason, Tavares once again wears the C.

3) Noel Acciari, maple leaves

Acciari was the recipient of the team belt, awarded to the team’s top player after each win. He was an absolute wrecking ball, scoring the first goal of the game and adding an unassisted strike in the final minute of the game. Since joining the Maple Leafs in a trade with the Blues, he’s completely reinvigorated the fourth line and given his club the toughness it needs to thrive in the postseason. Acciari finished with five hits. He also recorded six shots and the aforementioned goal. Scoring, tenacity, physicality – get a man who can do it all.

“I found Noel Acciari incredible in every way. He scored and defended, physically, generating scoring chances. He was excellent,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said unprompted after the game.

Honorable Mention: Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs (one goal, two points, four shots, 60 percent on faceoffs, five goals on the ice)

From night:

Bunting wasn’t terrible, but he no longer plays like a player who was a regular fixture in the Maple Leafs top-six. Playing against an underachiever, Bunting was unable to make an impact, except to outperform Evander Kane as both players received double minors for roughings after a spirited battle. He had by far the worst underlying numbers of any Maple Leafs player on Saturday night. We’re not going to go as far as to say that his confidence is shattered, but he’s certainly capable of playing better than he did against the Oilers.

Course of the game:

Marner’s goal could easily be here instead. We would have also away with Connor McDavid’s goal. But given the context of the game, Tavares, converting a 2-on-1 from Auston Matthews, almost brought down the house at Scotiabank Arena and sucked the life out of the Oilers, who resorted to theatrics in the third period.

Tavares wins the puck from Oilers’ best defenseman Darnell Nurse, Matthews catches the puck and finds Tavares in the crotch. The rest is history. And look again at how happy Tavares is afterwards.

game error:

Putting this in the misplay section is a bit unfair given the quality of Marner’s spectacular finish, but there’s no other choice. Edmonton’s Ryan McLeod put the puck on a tee shot for Marner right in front of the net. Marner then decided to dance around Stuart Skinner to score a highlight reel goal. As much as we’re impressed with Marner’s tight holds, that goal is McLeod’s fault and it woke a dormant Maple Leafs volcano in the second frame.

“These things look like a big mistake, but they don’t happen by accident, especially when there’s a guy like Mitch out there. He’s reading this game, he’s in the right place,” Keefe said of Marner’s goal after the game.

Status of the night: John Tavares hit the 30-goal mark for the sixth time in his career, while Auston Matthews hit the 30-goal mark for the seventh straight year. It’s a testament to the remarkable consistency shown by both No. 1 overall winners. Tavares and Matthews have both surpassed the absurd hype surrounding their entry into the league, and it’s a testament to their status in the NHL.

go viral:

Oilers backup goaltender Jack Campbell returned to Toronto, albeit on the bench. Campbell held court with reporters during morning ice skates and fondly reflected on his time with the Maple Leafs. He was showered with “SOUP” chants during a first-half stoppage and waved to the fans in attendance.

Quote of the evening:

“He didn’t play defense. I wouldn’t say exciting. He’s an outstanding talent who’s obviously playing at the top of his game. There’s an element of you that enjoys watching, as a guy who enjoys watching hockey, I enjoy watching the highlights. It’s impressive to see.” – Morgan Rielly on John Tavares calls Connor McDavid exciting to play against. Marner’s absurd goal sparks the Leafs’ comeback win over Oilers

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