TORONTO – When the Colorado Avalanche wore down, the Toronto Maple Leafs picked up the pace to win their second game in a row.
Seeing fatigue in an opponent that played the day before, the Leafs only got better as the game went on in coming back to beat the Avalanche 3-2 in overtime Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre.
Sparked by a hit from Leo Komarov on Jan Hejda, Joffrey Lupul tied the score midway through the third for the Leafs (2-2-0). A delay-of-game penalty on goaltender James Reimer provided a bit of a scare, but then Phil Kessel won the game 34 seconds into overtime with what coach Randy Carlyle called a “goal-scorer’s goal.”
“It seemed like the last half of the hockey game we had our skating legs, our forechecking game and we gave them some problems bringing the puck out of their zone,” Carlyle said.
After being out-shot in the first as James van Riemsdyk scored for Toronto and Ryan O’Reilly answered for Colorado (1-2-1), the Leafs had 31 shots to the Avalanche’s 12 in the second and third periods.
Patrick Roy’s team, which won Monday afternoon in Boston, had a lead thanks to Matt Duchene’s cross-bar-and-down goal in the second.
“We had a really good start,” Roy said. “Unfortunately for us, the penalties kind of hurt us a little bit and it gives them some momentum.”
Though the Leafs didn’t score on the power play, they generated plenty of offensive-zone time as a result. Carlyle pointed to one in the second period as the point “where the tide of the hockey game turned.”
The Leafs didn’t look patient, but as the Avalanche got tired, things started to shift. Semyon Varlamov (37 saves on 40 shots) was under siege more, and Reimer (22 saves on 24 shots) saw much less action.
“I think we were getting up ice well and we were kind of hemming them in their zone, especially in the third,” said Reimer, who won back-to-back starts for the first time since Oct. 26 and 29, 2013. “I thought we did a great job of moving our legs and giving them no time.”
Lupul, who credited Komarov for getting things started with his big check on Hejda, said there hadn’t been much energy — especially positive — in Air Canada Centre early this season. That changed in the third period and contributed to a second straight win.
“Our speed’s a big asset, so when we start coming at teams in waves, it puts a lot of pressure on them,” Lupul said. “For us, playing good defence is going to start with playing offensively with the puck. We were putting the pucks into places where we could get them, we were winning races that we weren’t winning in the first period and after that, some of our skill can take over.”
No more did skill take over than on Kessel’s overtime goal, when he beat Avalanche defenceman Tyson Barrie in front of the net before snapping a shot past Varlamov.
“You’ve always got to want the puck,” Kessel said. “Fortunately tonight I was able to win it.”
After almost scoring less than a minute after Lupul tied it in the third, Kessel’s second goal of the season put a big smile on his coach’s face.
“I loved it,” Carlyle said. “Phil’s a special player and if you give him enough opportunities, he can score. He can hurt people in different ways.”
Kessel was flying in the third period and his teammates followed. In 21:01 of ice time, the star right-winger had six shots and an assist on van Riemsdyk’s first-period goal.
“He’s a dynamic player,” Lupul said of Kessel. “You can not notice him for a stretch of time, and then he gets the puck with speed and has the ability to change the game in a matter of seconds. And not many guys in the league have that. And you certainly saw him, as the rest of our team started to pick up some speed and momentum in the third period, you could certainly see him start to separate himself.”
Rookie defenceman Stuart Percy continued his strong play in just his fourth career NHL game, playing a calm, panic-free 23:34 that was behind only captain Dion Phaneuf in ice time. Aided by legs young and old, the Leafs took advantage of a tired team.
“They had more gas than maybe we had, but overall I thought we played a good game,” Roy said.
Good, but not good enough to keep the Leafs from evening their record.
“We started 0-2 and I guess and there was a little panic in Toronto,” Kessel said. “But it ended up all right.”
Notes — Jake Gardiner was a healthy scratch for the second straight game. Carlyle said the 24-year-old needs to “play better” whenever he returns to the lineup. … Defenceman Roman Polak left briefly in the first after taking a shot to the left arm. After going to the bench in pain, Polak returned for his next shift. … Former Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla picked up his first two points with the Avalanche, each one a primary assist.
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