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GOOD POINT: Maple Leafs come to life, but lose shootout

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Well, Mitch Marner, you missed a hell of a game.

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Against a Western Conference team as hot as themselves in the East, the Leafs were without one of their young guns and down 3-0 midway through, but turned to a 38-year-old to make a game of it.   

Jason Spezza scored twice and had an assist before leaving late in overtime after a slash on his hand. He’d have been put back out for that ensuing power play and likely as one of Toronto’s chosen snipers in the shootout, the Leafs’ first of the year, in which the Minnesota Wild prevailed for a 4-3 win.

“It’s a big point for us, I’m glad our guys didn’t go away,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “(Spezza) wouldn’t let us go away.”     

Keefe said Spezza suffered a nerve-numbing whack, but should be okay to face the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday as the road trip ends. But Marner, whom the coach had said came through a Friday practice collision with defenceman Jake Muzzin without an issue, will also sit Sunday as a precaution.

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Toronto didn’t set the franchise record with an eighth straight road victory, but to its remarkable late-autumn run of 17-6-2, they added a three-goal road comeback in 6:23 of he second period against a Minnesota club that was 9-2 at home before puck drop. Leafs also killed a 5-on-3 for 1:48 in the third. That was mostly down to Jack Campbell, who made seven of his 37 regulation/overtime saves, surviving a last-minute regulation hit-and-run by Marcus Foligno that enraged his bench.

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Campbell gave up shootout goals to Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov while Auston Matthews had one for the Leafs. Ondrej Kase and William Nylander were stopped by Cam Talbot.      

“It was difficult,” Keefe said of the late call to scratch Marner and no time to give new lines a run through. “He’s important for obvious reasons and having Kase coming back was a tough ask to go into that situation (the idea of him taking Marner’s spot with Matthews and Michael Bunting).  

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“But I told Wayne Simmonds I’d move him in and told Auston he’d be all over the place. I was trying to have as little disruption as possible. The penalties (five minors to each team) were another factor.”

It wasn’t like the Wild worked too hard for their early lead, especially second period goals that came off a deliberate shot wide and then a puck that struck referee Jon McIsaac, well away from the play, and landed at Foligno’s feet. Spezza started the rally with a shot deep in the corner off a skate and the unsuspecting Talbot’s head. Then came Spezza’s five-hole power-play goal, taking Marner’s place on the No. 1 group, after the Leafs recognized a Wild player was missing a stick. Spezza then helped find Matthews alone for another with the extra man.

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That improved Spezza to 981 NHL points and 96th overall, one ahead of the the idled Nicklas Backstrom, just five behind Leafs’ great Dave Keon.  

Keefe also tried to bewilder the Wild using most of his power play alignment at even strength, Matthews, Nylander and John Tavares. But they were out on a last-minute offensive draw that ended with Jordan Greenway getting a rebound for an empty net for the opening goal.

That was preceded by what Keefe argued was Foligno coming off the Minnesota bench to join a fight. Simmonds and Bunting had responded to a hit on Matthews, with Foligno going off on a line change, or at least sitting atop the ledge, before jumping back on to engage Simmonds. However, in the referees’ opinion, he was never actually replaced on the change and hadn’t started the initial scrap.

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Defenceman Justin Holl, in his yearly visit home to ‘The State Of Hockey’, had an awful start, out for the Greenway goal and then inadvertently knocking Zuccarello’s pass past Campbell. He atoned as part of the 5-on-3 kill, with Muzzin and Kerfoot, during which Kerfoot had two sticks broken and Campbell lost his.   

Defenceman Morgan Rielly, who was thought to be the greater risk to be scratched with a shot block injury, dressed and ended up with three assists.    

This was Matthews’ 100th regular season game on a Saturday night, during which he’s compiled 55 goals, 52 assists and is a plus-28. He has eight points in his seven career games versus the Wild.

lhornby@postmedia.com

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