If the Toronto Maple Leafs current rebuild results in a contending team in the near future Auston Matthews, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, is going to be one of the biggest players responsible for the turnaround.
He is every bit as good as advertised, and has already proven to be a game-changing player. On Sunday, the Maple Leafs needed him to be as he was one of the biggest reasons they were able to avoid what could have been a crushing defeat in the Centennial Classic against the Detroit Red Wings.
He scored his second goal of the game — and already his 20th of the season in only 36 games — in overtime to lift the Maple Leafs to a 5-4 win in what might have been one of the best and most exciting outdoor games since the league started playing them nearly 10 years ago.
Thanks to a four-goal outburst early in the third period the Maple Leafs looked to be on their way to an easy win with less than seven minutes to play in regulation.
But they did not make it that easy on themselves.
Jonathan Ericsson‘s goal at the 13:54 mark of the third period helped spark a Red Wings rally that saw them score three goals in the final six minutes of regulation, including a controversial buzzer beater from Anthony Mantha with 1.1 seconds to play to send the game to overtime.
The play not only had to be reviewed to make sure there was enough time remaining on the clock, but also for potential goaltender interference as Maple Leafs goalie Frederick Andersen was bumped into by Thomas Vanek. But after review the on-ice officials determined that there was no interference and allowed the goal to stand.
Here is a look at the play that forced overtime.
It was during the 3-on-3 overtime that Matthews ended up scoring the winner when he beat Red Wings goalie Jared Coreau with a backhander just under the crossbar to give the Maple Leafs two massive points in the standings and continue their push for a playoff spot.
The win extends the Maple Leafs’ winning streak to five games.
With wins in six of their past seven games are now just three points out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division with still three games in hand on the Boston Bruins.
The late rally helped the Red Wings at least gain a point in the standings but they remain seven points out of a playoff spot with several teams ahead of them, putting their run of consecutive postseason appearances in jeopardy.