TORONTO – They built a three-goal lead and chased an Olympic-bound goaltender to the bench before the beginning of the second period, but the Toronto Maple Leafs were powerless against what might be the best line in hockey, falling as much to Alex Burrows and the Sedin twins as they did to the Vancouver Canucks.
The trio combined for five goals in the final 30 minutes of Saturday night’s game at Air Canada Centre, leading the Canucks to a dramatic 5-3 win. Vancouver overcame a three-goal first period deficit – which resulted in the rare benching of goaltender Roberto Luongo – to extend a season-high win streak to seven.
Burrows and Daniel Sedin each scored twice, while Henrik Sedin, who entered the night as the NHL’s scoring leader, added another goal in the win. Andrew Raycroft, the former Leafs goaltender, earned the win in relief.
“We’re really patient out there,” Henrik Sedin said. “We know if we don’t score in the first two periods, we’re going to get chances. And to have that feeling on a line, it makes a big difference – instead of starting to force things, to cheat and do the things you’re not supposed to do.”
The trio was shut out for a game last week, and seemed like it was going to be held in check for the first half of the game in Toronto. That began to change when Burrows scored a short-handed goal midway through the second period to get the Canucks on the board, sparking a fire the Leafs could not contain.
Daniel and Henrik scored two minutes apart early in the third period to tie the game, and Daniel notched the winner with a little more than two minutes left in regulation. Burrows scored into an empty net for his 25th goal of the year, leaving him only three behind his career-high, set last year.
“They’re getting better every year,” Leafs defenceman Francois Beauchemin said of the Sedin twins. “And Burrows is a big complement to their line. He’s got some speed, a good shot and agitates a little bit.”
Phil Kessel had a pair of goals for the Leafs in defeat, while Vesa Toskala lost control of what had been a stellar performance in goal. Toronto is mired in a six-game winless run.
Vancouver, meanwhile, was riding on a season-high six-game winning streak, with the added benefit of rest. The Canucks practised on the Air Canada Centre ice Friday, as they kicked off their NHL-record 14-game road swing to make room for the Olympics.
It qualified as a surprise, then, to see Kessel stake the Leafs to a 1-0 lead 52 seconds after the puck was dropped. Kessel scored his second less than three minutes later on a power play, something the Leafs had not managed to do in three games.
Mayers gave the home side a 3-0 lead five seconds before the end of the first when he blasted a shot past Luongo. The goal ultimately chased the Canadian Olympic goalie to the bench, and sent the crowd into full roar – and maybe a few giggles as Raycroft took over in relief.
The Leafs were rolling. They killed three penalties over the opening 20 minutes, a rarity this season, and seemed to have uncovered the best that Toskala could offer between the pipes.
Vancouver seemed to gain traction in the second period, slowly wrenching more control of the game. Burrows got the Canucks on the board when he picked Alexei Ponikarovsky’s pocket at the Vancouver blue-line, sparking a breakaway that ended with a nifty backhanded shot that beat Toskala’s glove.
The rally continued into the third, first with a goal from Daniel Sedin, followed moments later by a goal from Henrik. Burrows assisted on both goals, continuing the torrid pace the trio set when the calendar flipped into the New Year, which had seen the veteran forward compile 22 points in his previous 17 games.
“It’s fun,” Daniel Sedin said. “We try to do the same things every shift, and it’s really easy to play if you do that. We try to read off each other.”
Toronto, 0-25-6 when trailing after two periods this season, had not managed to lose a game in regulation when leading after 40 minutes. The Leafs were 13-0-2 when holding the advantage, though that advantage seemed increasingly precarious as the third period progressed.
“I do believe there’s a lot of character, and our guys never quit,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “We just push and work, push and work. And we got it done.”
NOTES: More than 360 Canadian Forces personnel attended the game at the invitation of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. Gen. Walter Natynczyk officiated the ceremonial puck drop before the game, and was visited at centre ice by former Leafs goaltender Johnny Bower, who was in full military garb. . . Canucks defenceman Sami Salo missed his fourth straight game with a groin injury. The 35-year-old has not played since Jan. 21. Vancouver was also without the services of rearguards Willie Mitchell (concussion) and Kevin Bieksa (left ankle). . . Toronto and Vancouver will not meet again this season.