Unlikely Maple Leafs heroes shine in comeback win: ‘Hammertime, baby!’
“Sometimes you can't score, but I just keep working.” — Ilya Mikheyev Renown sharpshooter William Nylander was alone and opened up on the left circle, his right-curved weapon cocked back in anticipation, eager to break a 1-1 defensive struggle wide open in the third period. Surely, pointman Justin Holl — he of 10 shots all […]

“Sometimes you can't score, but I just keep working.” — Ilya Mikheyev Renown sharpshooter William Nylander was alone and opened up on the left circle, his right-curved weapon cocked back in anticipation, eager to break a 1-1 defensive struggle wide open in the third period. Surely, pointman Justin Holl — he of 10 shots all year — would feed Nylander in his wheelhouse as the Toronto Maple Leafs broke into the Montreal Canadiens’ zone. After all, the teammates had recently debated whether Holl was a disher or shooter, and Holl had been confident he was the former. But sometimes a man just feels the urge to shoot his shot. Caution to wind. “Right when I wound up, I saw Willie out of the corner of my eye beaver-tailing,” Holl said, describing Wednesday’s turning point. “So, as I came down, I was like, ‘Oh, man. Willie’s going to want this biscuit,’ you know? But it went in, and all’s well that ends well.” As Holl and the Toronto Maple Leafs snatched a lead on enemy Bell Centre ice, Nylander embraced his neglecter with a message: “You are a shooter.” “So, it’s confirmed,” Holl deadpanned. “It’s actually been a while since I scored on a goalie. I think my last one was an empty-netter, and then it was a while previously before that one. It feels good.” Before Holl could retreat to the visitors’ room and celebrate the timely snuffing of his 350-day goal drought, Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukaukas asked if he’d envisioned his first of 2021 being a rocket, long-range slapshot that zipped high past Carey Price. “Oh, yeah. Hammertime, baby!” Holl responded. “Just kidding.” A grin, and a win. Another one. The Maple Leafs’ league-best 11th victory — a gutty, come-from-behind 4-2 triumph over their nearest North Division pursuers — didn’t look quite like the 10 that preceded it. After red-hot Josh Anderson beat Frederik Andersen on Montreal’s first shot of the night, Toronto’s box-score heroes were the most unlikely sort. Defenceman Travis Dermott has been in and out of the lineup all year, first for the club’s evaluation of newcomer Mikko Lehtonen and more recently with a nasty charley horse. But Dermott made no mistake when given a shooting lane after an extended shift of O-zone pressure wore down Montreal. He sniped high-blocker on Price, beating the future Hall of Famer clean for his first in 405 days. Dermott’s celebratory “Woooo!” could be heard clear over the fake crowd noise. “Nice to get one,” Dermott said. “I wasn’t planning on coming out and scoring goals today.” Holl and Dermott set the table for the longest drought-buster of all: Ilya Mikheyev scored his first goal, the eventual winner, in 411 days. The last time the Russian lit the lamp was on that horrifying night in New Jersey, Dec. 27, 2019, when he sped off the ice with a lacerated wrist and was whisked to the hospital. The winger says he doesn’t think of his long journey between goals, that he’s just been trying to help the team in any way possible. But Mikheyev was no less pleased to see his 23rd shot of the year finally strike gold. Ditto his teammates. “He must’ve had the most chances in the league without one yet,” said John Tavares, who gathered two assists. Auston Matthews lit up with a chance to big-up Mikheyev. “He’s so fast,” Matthews said. “You see it every night, his ability to get around defenders and get in there on the forecheck first. He’s had plenty of instances this season where he’s just blown by the defence and he’s hit crossbars or the goalie’s made a good save. “It just builds confidence throughout the lineup. Dermy’s been out for a bit. He comes back, scores a big, big goal for us. Holl as well. Mickey gets his first. I think that’s just all really positive stuff for us. Those guys start feeling it, get confidence, they start rolling. It’s great. It was a huge win for us tonight as well.” With Matthews and Mitch Marner screaming into Montreal with eight-game goal and point streaks, respectively, who’d have picked those streaks to get snuffed? Instead, 1,166 collective days of individual Leafs’ goal slumping came to an end. On Carey Price, no less. “They only pull it out when it counts the most,” said coach Sheldon Keefe of Dermott and Holl. “In both cases, the defenders and probably the goaltender aren't expecting them to shoot like that and take them on.” With Montreal dominating possession if not the Grade-A’s in a tied game, Keefe had challenged his troops in the second intermission to deliver their best period of the year. Holl’s blast arrived 1:50 into the third frame. Mikheyev’s crease-crashing marker came 42 seconds later. Toronto has strengthened its reputation as a deep team patient enough to snatch two points in a burst. It’s about time the role players got a little shine. “We obviously rely heavily on our star players, and they’re bringing it every night. But on the odd night that they’re held in check,” Holl said, “it’s nice to see some secondary scoring. That’s the mark of really good teams.” Heck, Holl might not even bother considering Nylander’s feelings next time he loads up the Howitzer. “I've uncorked it now,” Holl smiled. “There's no turning back.”
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