After John Tavares went off and Auston Matthews and Patrick Kane staged a memorable duel, Morgan Rielly got the last word on a wild Sunday night.
Rielly scored 19 seconds into overtime, Tavares had three goals and the Toronto Maple Leafs spoiled Chicago’s home opener with a 7-6 victory over the Blackhawks.
“Top to bottom we had contribution everywhere,” Tavares said.
Matthews had two goals and two assists for Toronto in the opener of a four-game trip. Rielly also had two assists and Kasperi Kapanen finished with a goal and an assist, helping the Maple Leafs bounce back from Saturday night’s 5-3 loss to Ottawa.
Watch the Leafs’ barnburner victory:
Garret Sparks, who is from the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst, made 25 saves to get the win in his first NHL game since 2016.
“I went up against my childhood heroes tonight and there’s nothing cooler than that,” the 25-year-old Sparks said.
‘Pretty crazy game’
Chicago was looking for its first 3-0 start since the 2012-13 season, but it was unable to clamp down on Toronto’s high-scoring lines. Kane scored twice in the final two minutes of regulation, and defencemen Duncan Keith and rookie Henri Jokiharju each had three assists.
“It was a pretty crazy game,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “The quality of chances, the quantity of goals, the way it ended was a different level of unpredictability.”
It was Tavares’ first hat trick since he agreed to a $ 77 million US, seven-year contract with Toronto in July, choosing his hometown team over several other suitors in free agency. The contract ramped up expectations for the Leafs, and the talented centre is already having an effect on his new franchise.
🎩🎩🎩<a href=”https://twitter.com/91Tavares?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@91Tavares</a> has his first hat trick as a Leaf. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/LeafsForever?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#LeafsForever</a> <a href=”https://t.co/IJRoWeURnw”>pic.twitter.com/IJRoWeURnw</a>
“[I] want to be as consistent as I can so I prepare myself and expect a lot of myself on a nightly basis, with and without the puck,” Tavares said.
Tavares’ last goal made it 5-4 midway through the third, but the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks were just getting started. Especially Matthews and Kane.
Kane tied it again from a bad angle with 1:24 remaining, shooting it past a screened Sparks. Then Matthews put the Maple Leafs back in front just 22 seconds later, beating Cam Ward from between the circles before holding his glove to his ear as if he was asking for more noise from the United Center crowd.
With the third period winding down, Kane wasn’t done quite yet. He one-timed a big slap shot by Sparks with 29 seconds left, and then held his glove to his ear in response to Matthews.
“I wasn’t really happy when he did it, so it was nice to get a chance to score and kinda give it back to him,” Kane said. “Wish we could have got another one in overtime.”
Rielly closes it quickly
But Rielly closed it out quickly in OT, sending a low wrist shot past Ward on the glove side.
“Obviously a strange night with the way it finished,” he said. “We don’t want to be in those games too often, but obviously we’re happy with the outcome.”
Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, John Hayden and Brandon Manning also scored for the Blackhawks, who opened the season with two overtime wins. Ward finished with 27 stops.
Who did it better? <a href=”https://twitter.com/AM34?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@AM34</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/88PKane?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@88PKane</a> <a href=”https://t.co/2EUTpUeN3R”>pic.twitter.com/2EUTpUeN3R</a>
Chicago got off to a fast start after an emotional pregame tribute to Hall of Fame forward Stan Mikita, who spent his entire 22-year NHL career with the franchise and died in August at age 78. Mikita’s wife, Jill, wiped away tears after a video of Mikita highlights was shown on the videoboard, and she was joined by Tavares and Toews for a ceremonial puck drop.
The Blackhawks wore patches with Mikita’s No. 21 on their jerseys, and No. 21 was painted on the ice behind each goal.
Toews then put Chicago in front when he tipped home Dominik Kahun’s shot, and DeBrincat made it 2-0 when he finished off a pretty passing sequence 12:02 into the first. It was Toews’ fifth goal in three games; he needed 19 games to score five times last season.
Toronto responded with two goals in a 34-second span on plays by Kapanen and Matthews. First, Matthews made a perfect pass ahead to Kapanen for a breakaway at 14:09. Then Kapanen stripped Keith behind the net and found Matthews for the tying score.
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