The two head coaches are close friends.
The two teams have some of the NHL’s best rookies.
The Toronto Maple Leafs believe they have a playoff-caliber team this season, and the Carolina Hurricanes will have to wait at least another year, but both played it Saturday like much was at stake for each team.
It took overtime to decide it, and a goal by defenseman Morgan Rielly at 2:13 of the extra period gave the Leafs a 3-2 victory at PNC Arena.
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Rielly’s goal came about 30 seconds after the Leafs’ Auston Matthews knocked the puck away from Canes center Victor Rask, who was caught on the ice too long in the overtime. Rielly first carried the puck behind the net, pivoted near the right circle, then made another stop-and-start move and unleashed a low shot past Rask that beat goalie Cam Ward.
“I had a couple of chances, but I couldn’t put it in the net,” Rask said. “Then my man scored. So it’s my bad.”
It was the rubber game in the three-game season series, matching Canes coach Bill Peters and Mike Babcock of the Leafs, who dined together Friday night. The game almost seemed like an NHL rookie showcase, with so much attention given this season to Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander of the Leafs and the Canes’ Sebastian Aho.
The Leafs (31-22-14), getting 36 saves from Frederik Andersen, slipped past the New York Islanders and into the second wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 76 points.
“It was a bit of a grind, but in the end we stuck with it,” Babcock said.
While it was a loss, Peters said there was “lots to like” about the Canes’ game.
The Canes scored on a second-period power play when Teuvo Teravainen winged a long shot that glanced off Rielly’s stick in front of Andersen. Carolina’s penalty killers killed off both penalties in the game, and Peters liked the play of his defensemen-- Jaccob Slavin played almost 30 minutes and had five takeaways.
Peters praised Rask, who scored his 15th in the first period with a sharp shot past Rielly that beat Andersen shortside. Rask, centering a line with Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm, also won eight of 10 faceoffs.
“I thought Victor Rask skated very well,” he said. “I thought that line was dangerous.”
Told Rask accepted responsibility for the loss, Peters said, “I liked his game. I liked the fact he had more pace to his game.”
Peters didn’t like losing rookie forward Valentin Zykov early in the game. Zykov, who scored his first goal Thursday in his NHL debut against the New York Rangers, was banged into the boards by the Leafs’ Roman Polak and left the game with an upper-body injury.
Peters did not criticize the officiating for the Polak hit – the defenseman was not penalized – or for an interference call against Ward in the second period when the goalie went behind the net to play the puck and then collided with Leafs forward Nazem Kadri.
Asked how often he had seen a goalie knocked down behind the net and then penalized, Peters said, “In the last decade that would be the first.”
While the Canes (27-27-11) twice took the lead, the Leafs responded. Marner scored 53 seconds after Rask’s goal with a one-timer from the right circle, and James van Riemsdyk, who assisted on the Marner goal, scored on a quick burst into the zone in the second period after the Leafs won a faceoff in the neutral zone.
Marner missed the Feb. 19 game in Raleigh with an injury as the Leafs won 4-0, getting a sensational goal from Matthews. Marner’s goal was his 16th.
“I thought it was a real good hockey game,” Peters said. “I thought there was real good pace and skill both ways.”