Entering the toughest building in the NHL at the end of their road trip, the Maple Leafs found a way to extend their winning streak in large part thanks to timely goaltending from Ilya Samsonov and clutch execution by their power play.

And in the interest of not burying the lede, Birthday Bert came up huge.

Your game in 10:

1.  It is a fair time to jump on an old soapbox about this rule because both teams were equally hurt by/benefitted from it (the Leafs in the first minute of the game, and the Avalanche late in the third): Automatic delay-of-game penalties for pucks over the glass need to go. The obvious solution is to treat it like icing — i.e. a defensive-zone draw for the offending team with no option to change — with maybe some referee discretion built in for anything that appears exceptionally intentional or if there is a repeat offense by the same player.

We might see players hesitate a little less about going hard and high off the glass to get pucks out without the puck-over-glass rule, but we wouldn’t suddenly see a rash of players intentionally flipping it over the glass instead of down the ice with those rules in place (we know this because it wasn’t even really a problem before the rule was implemented). You never want to see a playoff series decided on one of these calls as we saw in 2020 with Vegas vs. Dallas in the bubble. At times, it can also be really difficult to tell when a puck takes a slight deflection off the glass or off a stick, which Simon Benoit‘s penalty in the first minute of the game tonight might well have done.

[An aside, while on the topic of rules I would change: If we’re worried about taking power plays and thereby offense away by getting rid of puck-over-glass penalties, revisit the offside challenge rule, which I dislike for one simple reason (beyond how marginal most of the goal reversals are): It’s not like the NHL is formally using a continuation of the play — a delaying of the whistle — on close offside calls as soccer leagues do under VAR. The refs are sometimes eliminating scoring plays with incorrect offside calls by blowing them dead, which a team has no recourse for, but there is the avenue to take away goals by zooming in on pixels of the ice near the blue line to see if a player jumped it early by half an inch].

In any event, the Leafs got off to the worst possible start to this game by taking the penalty in the first minute, and the PK — the clear sore spot on the team right now — did not step up. They blew various clearance opportunities, making the 1-0 goal feel inevitable. Jake McCabe blew two of them — but got away with the first initially — and then TJ Brodie and Pontus Holmberg also couldn’t get it down the ice past Cale Makar (who is all-world at holding the line).

Fortunately, the other side of special teams more than made up for it tonight.

2.   The initial response by the Leafs to going 1-0 down was positive as the team’s bottom six lines strung together offensive-zone shifts back-to-back to earn back some momentum. Ryan Reaves made a strong play on the defensive-zone half-wall — generally speaking, he takes care of the puck well on breakouts through his strength and knowing his limitations — and then David Kampf set up TJ Brodie creeping in from the point for a good look (another example of Brodie’s offensive confidence growing on the left). That set the stage for the top line to hop on the ice in the offensive zone on the fly and create a good Matthews-to-Knies redirect chance right on the doorstep.

The MacKinnon line was largely getting the better of the Matthews line in the early going, though, including a shift where William Lagesson‘s shot block on Jonathan Drouin likely saved a 2-0 goal in the first five minutes. There was also a turnover by Matthews at the offensive blue line that turned into an odd-man rush for the Avs (Rantanen botched it with MacKinnon wide-open in front).

10 minutes in, the Tyler BertuzziMax DomiWilliam Nylander line was applying a good amount of offensive-zone pressure on the Avs’ top line, but when the puck turned over, the Leafs gave up a 2v1 from what started as a 3v3 situation leaving the offensive zone.

Nate MacKinnon is a mutant for his ability to turn on the jets with the burst he showed late in a shift — and Morgan Rielly isn’t the first to get burned by MacKinnon’s wheels off the rush — but Rielly should’ve remained on his feet and stayed in the play at least. Nylander peeled for a change and Max Domi let up on the backcheck instead of tracking back hard toward the middle, which left Brodie to defend a 2v1 situation in a bunch of open ice. MacKinnon set it up, and Andrew Cogliano buried it.

3.  At the end of a road trip in the toughest building in the NHL, it was now a 2-0 deficit inside 11 minutes; the type of situation where the Maple Leafs were either going to fold and get run over or step up and dig in.

The initial shifts after the 2-0 goal indicated they were not going to bow out quietly. The fourth line forced a quick icing — their shifts after goals or kills are earning them more and more trust — allowing the top line to come over the boards for an offensive-zone faceoff. On the following shift, Mitch Marner danced through the middle, in on goal, and just lost the handle at the inopportune time.  The Tavares line followed it up with offensive-zone pressure, and soon after jumping on the ice, Tyler Bertuzzi drew an interference call while pursuing the puck on the forecheck (an extremely unsubtle pick play by Ross Colton).

The Leafs did not get their five-on-five game rolling over four lines as well or as consistently as they did in other games on this trip, but they were able to do it with success at a critical juncture after the 2-0 goal, leading to a power-play opportunity.

4.   On the top-unit power play, Tyler Bertuzzi got to finish the work he started with a backdoor finish on a nice Mitch Marner cross-crease pass. We’ve seen him flub a few of these during his worst finishing moments this season; this time, he bore down and hammered it into the empty net.

The Leafs needed a break to make it into the first intermission down only 2-1. The Avalanche pushed back and controlled play for a sizable portion of the final five minutes, and in the final minute of the period, the Leafs gave up a 2v1 off a simple flip out of the defensive zone by the Avalanche.

With Brodie stepping up on a puck that went over his head, Nick Robertson completely let up on the backcheck. Miraculously, with an open net on the pass across, the back of Ross Colton’s stick blade made contact with the puck and knocked it onto the post instead of into the empty net before it trickled across the line and stayed out.

5.   By the halfway point of the second period, Colorado’s 2-1 advantage was somewhat flattering for the Leafs.

With around 12 minutes to go in the middle frame, there was a really long own-zone sequence for the Nylander line plus the Brodie – Liljegren pairing against the Avalanche top line — it actually started with a faceoff in the offensive zone, but it certainly didn’t end there — where they iced it once, Domi blew a clearance at one point, and Bertuzzi’s stick broke.  Ilya Samsonov stepped up massively, making a breakaway save on Logan O’Connor and then a nice post-to-post stop on Bowen Byram.

Nick Robertson lost his stick on the next shift as the Avs continued to generate offensive-zone pressure. Colorado held a clear edge in o-zone time, slot shots, and cycle shots for most of this game. The Leafs were not out of the fight from a competitiveness standpoint, though, as they were laying out to block shots and battling even when they were under siege. But Samsonov was the main reason it wasn’t at least 3-1 at this stage in the game.

6.   Give credit to Sheldon Keefe for not totally abandoning the balanced lines that have brought the team success during this winning streak at the first sign of trouble. The Nylander line was having a rough game to this point, and the underlying numbers were ugly for them overall (a 26-12 deficit in shot attempts). It would’ve been easy to return to Bertuzzi with Tavares and Nylander while shortening the bench a bit, turning the third line into spare parts that likely would’ve been lost quite a bit in the shuffle (some combo of McMann, Domi, and Robertson would’ve been difficult to trust in the circumstances).

Keefe mixed Tavares onto the Marner-Matthews line for a handful of shifts — which is a fair situational adjustment, and it came through with a good shift leading to the critical late-third-period power play — but he returned to his regular lines throughout the game. Tavares’ left wing, Bobby McMann, still played nearly 13 minutes and fired four shots on goal (McMann made a nice drive to the net late in the third at one point, although there was also one moment in the second period when he settled for a shot from the faceoff dot. That is something he’ll need to keep in check, even though he owns a good shot and a bunch of pucks have gone in for him lately; his bread will be buttered by driving the net).

We’ve talked for years in this space about the importance of establishing more balance and building proper depth lines throughout the forward group, and Keefe is thus far showing a real commitment to it.

7.    Even when they are dormant for long spells and partly guilty on a goal against, the upside of the combination of Max Domi and William Nylander is that they could always create a quick-strike threat in transition at any moment. That’s what happened to tie the game with five minutes left in the middle frame.

Immediately after Ilya Samsonov bailed them out again, Nylander forced a turnover at the defensive blue line which stranded four Avalance players above the puck. Nylander’s initial toe-drag around Cale Makar was silky, but the pass over to Domi wasn’t as sharp. It created a broken play, though, and after a Nylander backhand shot in the ensuing scramble, Tyler Bertuzzi followed up on it to collect the loose change for his first multi-goal game as a Maple Leaf.

8.    Just two minutes later, the Leafs grabbed the lead as the top line won a shift against the Avalanche first line and top defense pairing. Auston Matthews burst in and nearly scored before an Avalanche icing led to an offensive-zone faceoff, which Matthews then won.

Matthew Knies definitely earned the primary assist on this goal. He supported the puck well high in the offensive zone during a TJ Brodie pinch down the wall to maintain possession initially, and then he went straight to the front of the net after handing it off to Mitch Marner, who danced around the top of the zone. Knies’ screen was perfect as Marner’s seeing-eye knuckler found the back of the net over Alexandar Georgiev’s glove.

The scoring chance numbers and offensive-zone time certainly weren’t in the Leafs’ favour, but it’s noteworthy that they were out-shooting the Avalanche 25-18 at this point, blocked a bunch of shots (24 in total), and the top line did a good job of simplifying and putting a puck on net with traffic for this goal. In the circumstances, it wasn’t going to be pretty, but the Leafs were finding a way.

9.   Soon after the 3-2 goal, Nick Robertson got torched by Cale Makar off the point in a lost defensive-zone draw situation, but Ilya Samsonov was there again. In a sure sign that it was Samsonov’s night, Mikko Rantanen burst into the slot during the final minute of the second period and labeled one for the top corner, but the shaft of the goalie’s stick kept the puck out.

The game was mostly one-way traffic in Colorado’s favour in the third period, and it wasn’t much of a surprise when they tied the game four minutes into the final frame. It stood out throughout the game that the Leafs were passive through the neutral zone and sagging off the points a fair bit in the defensive zone. It felt like a matter of time until it burnt them.

Amid another rough sequence at five-on-five for the Domi line (which included an icing and yet another broken stick), the Leafs were standing still and watching by the time Rantanen measured his shot from high in the zone through traffic to make it 3-3. I’ll give Bertuzzi a nod for at least trying to play defense in the preceding sequence, but Domi and Nylander’s feet were locked in place and they didn’t even so much as take half a stride to close down on Rantanen, who had forever to pick his spot.

10.   With the Avs in control of this game for the most part in the third period (there was one nice offensive-zone shift by Toronto’s fourth line worth mentioning with around eight minutes left to play), it felt like the Leafs were going to need another break or two to go their way if they were going to get out of this game with both points. Shots were 8-0 for the Avalanche in the third period with around six minutes to go in regulation.

The Leafs got their opening courtesy of a delay-of-game penalty by Mikko Rantanen with just four minutes left to play. It came after some offensive-zone pressure by Keefe’s loaded-up line of Tavares – Matthews – Marner, which is a smart little situational adjustment by Keefe to make sure Tavares is sharing some ice with the elite offensive talent on the team in offensive situations while the captain sits out of the top power-play unit and plays with McMann and Robertson as his regular linemates at five-on-five.

The team’s power play continued to roll with timely offensive production. They maintained pressure in the zone for well over a minute, and Tyler Bertuzzi nearly set up Morgan Rielly at the backdoor before Nylander was first to a Matthews rebound off the backboards. As Nylander started to round the back of the net, the no-look backhand pass to Bertuzzi out front was perfect and fooled Georgiev, who misread Nylander’s intention.

Bertuzzi scored his first hat trick as a Leaf exactly how you’d picture it: three goals all from a few inches outside the blue paint. No one on the team was more deserving of a breakout night like this, and hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come in these playoff-style matchups from a player with a history of thriving in those sorts of battles.

The final two minutes to close out the game encapsulated the night for the Leafs, who bent but didn’t break (and narrowly avoided a Patrik Stefan nightmare for Tavares at the final buzzer).

The Leafs now head home winners of seven straight, including back-to-back wins over the 2023 and 2022 Cup champs on the road. The race down the stretch is suddenly looking a lot more like a division title pursuit than a battle for a playoff spot.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Joe Bowen & Jim Ralph Game Highlights: Leafs 4 vs. Avalanche 3