TORONTO – Mitch Marner and the Maple Leafs were cruising.
The winger had bagged his second-career hat trick to snap a long goal drought and help his team build a 3-1 advantage through two periods.
All Toronto had to do was lock things down over the final 20 minutes. A familiar storyline then bubbled to the surface, setting the stage for Marner to leave a final mark on the night — after his goaltender held the fort.
Marner buried the shootout winner on the heels of emphatically halting an eight-game goal drought Thursday as the Leafs survived a blown third-period lead to defeat the Seattle Kraken 4-3.
“I haven’t been happy with my own game,” said Marner, who sported a full fishbowl visor after needing 12 stitches to close a gash from a puck to the jaw Tuesday.
“Haven’t been my best.”
Auston Matthews also scored in the shootout and had two assists for Toronto (12-6-3). Joseph Woll made 37 saves through 65 minutes and two more in the shootout.
“They’re a hard forechecking team,” Leafs blueliner Jake McCabe said of the third period. “They tilted the ice a little bit.
“Woller kept us in it.”
The rookie goaltender also made three huge stops in overtime, saving the best of the bunch for Jordan Eberle’s effort on a one-timer.
“There’s more space out there, guys are making plays,” Woll said following his third consecutive start. “Just trying to enjoy it.”
Jared McCann, with two goals, and Eeli Tolvanen replied for Seattle (8-10-3). Philipp Grubauer stopped 25 shots.
“We were the better team … I call it as I see it,” Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Thought we deserved a better outcome.”
Despite picking up a second straight shootout win on home ice, the Leafs still have just five regulation wins through 21 games.
“We’ve been in this situation a lot,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said of surrendering leads. “And getting asked about it every single day — and for good reason we’re getting asked about it, right?
“We haven’t found a way to get on the right side of these things. But at the end of the day this is a really hard league to get points in.”
Held off the scoresheet in his last three outings, Marner had been a focus of attention over the last stretch in Toronto for admittedly sub-par play — along with Matthews — on the Leafs’ top line.
Keefe split up his dynamic duo looking for a spark ahead of Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout win over Florida.
It arrived Thursday with Marner’s three-goal performance.
“He was feeling it,” Toronto defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “Great player and obviously a massive part of this team and what we’re trying to do.”
The Leafs were forced to dig deep into their blue-line reserves Thursday with Mark Giordano (broken finger) joining Timothy Liljegren (ankle) and John Klingberg (hip) on the sidelines after taking a shot off his hand in Tuesday’s victory.
Marner opened the scoring at 6:34 of the first period on a power play with his sixth goal of the season to end that long dry spell.
“I always find it funny when people say guys are struggling when they still have a point a game,” McCabe said.
Marner then made it 2-0 just 21 seconds into the second on a one-timer that took a deflection right as a Seattle penalty was expiring.
McCann — a member of the Leafs for less than a week in July 2021 before being claimed in the expansion draft — got the visitors on the board when he snapped his team-leading 10th past Woll on a Kraken man advantage at 3:37.
Seattle carried a lot of the play from there until Marner took a breakaway pass from McCabe and fired upstairs for his third of the night and eighth of the campaign to send hats streaming onto the ice from an adoring Scotiabank Arena crowd.
“Vintage Mitch Marner,” Keefe said. “Great sign for us.”
But Tolvanen scored his sixth off the rush at 6:15 of the third to make it 3-2 and McCann tied it at 13:24 before Woll shone in OT and Marner won it in the shootout.
“It’s a tough league,” Rielly said. “Every night is challenging. Every team (has) size and speed and all the rest of it.
“If we got two points, we’re happy.”
The 29-year-old played his 740th regular-season game to move past Bob Baun for fourth on Toronto’s all-time list for defencemen.
Kraken blueliner Vince Dunn entered play tied for the team lead with 19 points in 23 games. The 27-year-old also headed into Thursday even with Cale Makar for the third-most points by a defenceman in 2023 with 64, behind Quinn Hughes (79) and Erik Karlsson (68).
Toronto hosts Boston on Saturday, while Seattle visits Ottawa.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2023.
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