London ball

Maple Leafs take 4-1 lead and lose to Avalanche in overtime

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A three-goal lead isn’t enough head start when running 60 minutes against the Avalanche in the thin air of Mile High City.

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The Maple Leafs had a two-game sweep in mind against Colorado at the end of Saturday’s second period, but let it slip and had to settle for a point at Ball Arena in Denver, with the Avs completing the comeback. 5-4 in overtime.

Presented as a flying circus of two daring offenses, the evening’s entertainment did not disappoint. But the combination of sapped energy, a solid building behind the home side who are on an 11-game winning streak has proven too important.

“Not many teams can keep these guys below four goals a game these days,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, who would usually be excited to give up such a big lead. “Especially today, we are missing important attackers (Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall in the COVID-19 protocol and Ondrej Kase injured). These are three guys essential to protect a lead like this. They are also three penalties while we had four penalties and only one power play.

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“I only get the positive from it. The way you give up the lead and lose in overtime (pricks), but that’s a huge point, all things considered.
It started a four-game trip down the Southwest for the Leafs, who have two days off before facing Las Veas and Arizona back-to-back.

Auston Matthews scored twice in 33 seconds in the first period to give him five in two games against the Avs after an 8-3 loss to Toronto last month, and 14 points in nine career games against them. Alex Kerfoot, promoted to the top line after Marner was struck out, had a three-point night against his former team. But Mikko Rantanen had four points, Cale Makar and Nazem Kadri two each, with a goal from Nathan MacKinnon.

Devon Toews scored in overtime after Makar’s late second-period goal made it 4-2 and cast doubt in the minds of the Leafs that their undefeated mark after 40 minutes this year (17-0- 0) was sure. Jack Campbell, on the eve of his 30th birthday, made 44 saves but struggled to give up the last couple.

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“I thought the guys were playing hard and if I play at my level we win this game every time,” he said.

Matthews had none of that.

“I think Soup played amazingly tonight,” he said. “One of them (a plunging trap on Toews during a power play in the third period) has to be saved of the year. He did everything he could, but they’re a really good team there and they’re not going to go away.

“They gained momentum in the second half. It would be nice to get the second point, but a few minor details crept in and they capitalized. We had a good start. Our last two games (at home) had no fans, there was a lack of energy, but here we come to a full stadium with the crowd really in it. We were ready to go and it showed we were smart with our first quarter lengths.

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The Leafs’ first quarterbacks kept the Avs a good distance from Campbell, then three goals on nine shots chased Darcy Kuemper out of the Colorado zone. Michael Bunting came off 2-1 and found Kerfoot alone, then Matthews hit on a rebound before burying a pass from Kerfoot behind the net. But Toronto let their guard down late in the first period when the Avs’ top line flew away, capped by MacKinnon’s goal, their 34th point in 21 games.

The Leafs’ bounty didn’t extend to Matthews and the No.1 power play, which got bogged down on his one chance. The second unit outscored them and scored for Nick Ritchie’s third straight game, days after clearing the waivers but came back for Engvall.

The loss of Marner and Engvall pitted the hot Ilya Mikheyev against John Tavares and William Nylander. Ritchie played 5v5 with David Kampf and Jason Spezza, while Keefe joined Kyle Clifford and Brett Seney with Wayne Simmonds.

“We haven’t played a game like this at this pace for a long time,” said Keefe. “We needed more of our last six but it was difficult to fit all four lines into the rotation and it took its toll. “

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