The 100th season of the Toronto Maple Leafs sadly ended in game 6 against the Washington Capitals but most Leafs fans weren’t too upset about it. This was the greatest season the fans have seen in a long time, and there is a lot of hope in Leafs Nation right now. Without further hesitation, let’s get into what I thought were the best ten moments of this entire season from start to finish. Keep in mind that these take place from the first game of the season to the last game of the season and there will be no off season signings or trades in here. It is strictly the top ten from this past season.
10. Komarov celebrates with wrong team (January 3rd)
Did many people even notice this when it happened? This is definitely my favorite Komarov moment. After receiving a pass from Matthews that has assist of the year candidate all over it, Komarov puts the puck in the net before anybody on the ice even knows where the puck is. I’m not sure if it was just Komarov’s first reaction or if he just wanted to get under the other teams skin, but following his goal he tapped Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik on the shoulder right before Orpik gave him a good smack on the shoulder. Komarov gives Orpik a good look in the eyes before tapping him on the shoulder which makes me believe that Komarov was just doing it to be a nuisance, which makes the whole thing even funnier. Who knows, maybe Komarov sincerely felt bad for the Capitals, thinking to himself as he taps Brooks on the shoulder: “I wouldn’t want to be playing against Auston either.”
Which was better: Auston Matthews' pass, or Leo Komarov's troll job on Brooks Orpik? (Trick question. Both were great!) pic.twitter.com/s9OCMy8Mpk— Yahoo Canada Sports (@YahooCASports) January 4, 2017
9. Nylander’s Hat Trick against Boston (February 4th)
After a very impressive first half of the season by Matthews and Marner, a lot of Leafs fans had completely forgotten about Swedish sensation William Nylander, who is also a huge part of the young core for the Leafs. After missing a game earlier in the year and battling his way back up the line up from the fourth line, Willie was due for a huge game, and what better team for it to come against than the Boston Bruins? This game propelled Nylander to playing the best month of hockey he’s played in the NHL where he scored 13 points in 14 games, and shot at a ridiculous percentage, 19.4%. During this stretch, the Leafs got points in nine of the 14 games. Every goal in this clip are excellent examples of the raw skill that Nylander possesses, from his lethal shot to his patience with the puck, Nylander is a star in the making.
8. Centennial Win in Overtime (January 1st)
When Matthews made it 4-1 with eight minutes left in the third, it would have taken only a true Leafs fan to predict that the bottom of the NHL Red Wings could make the comeback and push the game to overtime, let alone scoring with 4 seconds left to tie the game up. Waiting for overtime to start I felt completely discouraged, like I was watching the same Leafs team from the many painful years from before. I was sick and tired of the Leafs blowing late leads, it had been happening for years and, true to form, it was happening at the start of this season as well. One factor I forgot about though was Auston Matthews. I don’t think it was more satisfying seeing anyone else end the game and ultimately change the culture of blowing leads late in the game.
7. Jake Gardiner’s OT goal vs the Jets (February 21st)
After a very frustrating first match up between Matthews and Laine where Laine scored a hat trick including his overtime winner to complete the 3 goal comeback that the Jets made on the Leafs, Leafs Nation was ready for a big comeback game in the second meeting of their two very young careers. After a lot of back and forth play in regulation, the game went into overtime, which was not a position that the Leafs liked to be in as they finished the season tied for most pity points (OT/SO loss) with Carolina. After Andersen made a very nice 2 on 1 save, Gardiner and Nylander went the other way for their own 2 on 1 right before Gardiner absolutely picks a corner. This moment felt to me as if the Buds really started playing with confidence and came together as a team to show they were there to play. Even if they had a little bit of a slump after this game, this game changed how Leafs fans saw the team and especially Jake Gardiner and the break out year he had.
6. Leafs sweep Bruins for first time since 1967
Just typing that number hurts, but finally we don’t have to dread it as much anymore as Leafs fans. For the first time since Bobby Orr’s rookie season in 1967 (ouch again), the Leafs swept the season series over the Bruins 4-0. If there is any team that I love watching the Leafs beat, it has to be the Boston Bruins. For reasons we don’t like talking about, we’ve been rivaling hard with the B’s for about 4 years now, which made this sweep even sweeter. It was also a good sight that the Leafs are actually competitive against divisional rivals which hasn’t really been the case in recent years. The Buds beat the B’s 4-1, 4-1, 6-5 and finished the sweep winning 4-2 at home in the Air Canada Center.
5. The Leafs Trade Byron Froese + 2nd round pick for Brian Boyle (February 27th)
Going into the season I thought Toronto would be bad, but not near as bad as previous season. I was predicting a finish anywhere from about 26th-22nd, as I believe most realistic Leafs fans did. About a month in and they’re ranked 21st in the standings, so they’re about where you expected them, but you’ve seen the rookies make a huge impact and really start to adapt to the NHL. Another month goes by and not much change, still 21st, still have rookies adapting. Fast forward another month after some strong hockey by the Leafs and they are ranked 13th in the league which had many Leafs fans, including myself, very excited. Skip ahead yet another month to the middle of February when the Buds are 12th and the trade deadline is fast approaching. With no valuable UFA contracts expiring at the end of the season, the Leafs management didn’t want to be sellers, so to the surprise of everyone, they picked up a solid depth 4th line center in Brian Boyle to join the squad. It was at that point that it became very clear to all, that the Leafs were actually going to make a push for the playoffs only 2 years into the rebuild. This was the riskiest, but ultimately the right move to make. They made the playoffs and were accompanied by the experience and leadership presence of Brian Boyle.
4. Mitch Marner’s shootout goal vs Ottawa (January 21st)
Isn’t it crazy to think about that they were even considering sending him back to junior after seeing the season he had? Mitch Marner isn’t necessarily a goal scorer, he doesn’t have the best shot, Mitch Marner’s greatest skills are his playmaking, hands and IQ. This goal is an absurdly terrific example of how quick those hands of Mitch’s can move! I counted about eight moves from the hash marks to the net, but he seriously moves too fast to tell. After they reviewed it they could tell that Marner had kept the puck moving forward and counted it as a good goal. Even though Condon was pretty mad about it being called a goal, I think he was more upset about losing his jock strap up in the rafters.
3. Kapanen scores double OT winner (April 15th)
Caps sweep in three. That was the big joke of the playoffs coming in as the back to back presidents trophy champions, Washington Capitals got set to play the 8th seed Maple Leafs. After an exciting first game that resulted in the Buds losing in overtime, Leafs Nation knew there was a possibility and were eager for a win. After a very exciting regulation and overtime, the second game would require double overtime where a very unexpected line came in to play hero. After great work in the corner by Martin to knock the puck lose behind the net, Brian Boyle flew past the back of the net with the puck. From pretty much the other side of the net, Boyle does a 360 no-look pass where he finds a wide open Kasperi Kapanen who taps the puck into the open net. This goal represented a lot of different things; that the Leafs could win against the Capitals, the fourth line was more valuable than it recently appeared to be, and the Leafs have exceptional depth on the wing. Let’s also take a moment to appreciate Brian Boyle agitating the Caps fans by pounding on the glass at them after the game, what a great moment.
2. Game 81 vs the Pittsburgh Penguins (April 8th)
In all of my years of being a Leafs fan I have never had more emotions in a game than I had with this one. With the season winding down and the Leafs 2 points out of a playoff spot, they needed just a single win in the last two games to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in a full season since 2003-04, the only catch is that they were playing two of the NHL’s hottest teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Early game highlights include Kessel scoring against his former, JVR’s crazy one handed bat to goal, and Andersen getting injured and being replaced by McElhinney. Cut to the third period where the game is tied 2-2 right before Jake Gardiner kicks the puck in his own net and every feeling I had hit the floor, “there goes the season” I said to myself. Then about 8 minutes later something miraculous happened, Kasperi Kapanen scores his first NHL goal on his former team on a beautiful feed from Hunwick and Matthews, and with 5:30 to go, the game is tied again. After a few minutes of screaming at the T.V. and my heart beating at over 200 beats per minute, Jake Gardiner redeems himself by chucking one on net and it being re-deflected by Connor Brown scoring his 20th of the season to give the Buds a 3-2 lead. The clock slowly ticked down as I waited for the Pens to surely score, all Leafs fans knew it was coming. Pens pull their goalie, a minute left to play, Kessel sends a pass cross ice to a wide open Crosby who OH MY GOSH CURTIS MCELHINNEY. Biggest save of his career would ultimately seal the deal as the Leafs went on to win 3-2, clinching a playoff spot.
1. Auston Matthews scores 4 goals in NHL debut (October 12th)
Could anyone have predicted someone making an impact on their NHL team as quick as Matthews did? Matthews almost single handedly acquired them that single point in the season debut as he scored all four of Toronto’s goals in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators. Even though the Buds didn’t end up with the win, this game truly showed Leafs fans what Matthews was really about. Everyone praised Matthews for his two-way game and everyone thought he would come in and play a big defensive and protected role but he did the exact opposite and burst onto the scene as an offence juggernaut. A very fitting debut for the future of this franchise.