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Maple Leafs Defeat Blackhawks but Problems at Even Strength Persist

The Toronto Maple Leafs blew a three-goal lead but managed to get a lucky bounce that allowed ex-Chicago Blackhawks forward David Kampf to score the winner against his former club.

The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up their second win in their last three games and that in itself would normally be cause for celebration.

But they squandered a three-goal lead against the Chicago Blackhawks at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday Night. A fortunate bounce off the end boards late in regulation time saw David Kampf, the former Blackhawk, swoop in and put the puck past an out-of-position Kevin Lankinen for the 5-4 victory.

"We got outplayed pretty badly at 5-on-5," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.

The problematic trend began last week when the Leafs departed for a pair of Central Division games on the road against the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets. It's around the same time the Leafs lost forward Mitch Marner to a shoulder injury he sustained at practice in a collision with teammate Jake Muzzin.

But this team doesn't look like the team that won 15 games out of a 17-game stretch. They look reminiscent of the team that struggled to find their game when they last met the Blackhawks on Oct. 27.

The Leafs built up a 4-1 lead in the second period against the Blackhawks in the second period. Two of those goals came on the power play from John Tavares and Auston Matthews. William Nylander and Pierre Engvall scored the other goals.

But Toronto managed just three shots on goal in the middle frame. Petr Mrazek, who made his first start in goal since Oct. 30 after missing much of the season with a lingering groin injury, was put to the test. Despite allowing a goal on the first shot he faced early by Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews, he made several difficult saves that allowed his team to stay ahead.

Eventually, the dam broke.

Connor Murphy scored late in the second period to give the Blackhawks life. That cut Toronto's lead to 4-2 at the second intermission.

Dominik Kubalik scored early in the third period for the Blackhawks and Jake McCabe followed to bring the game even 4-4.

"I think we just lost track of our process, the way we want to play," William Nylander said. "I think we started to give pucks away, not get pucks deep and play behind their goal line. I think that's what led to the game opening up like that."

The Leafs won thanks to that fortunate bounce, but the team was clearly not pleased with how it all went down.

That was evident when the broadcast of the game showed Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas' reaction to the team's game-winning goal as he shook his head side to side in bemusement.

"It's the same story that it's been here, too many chances against, too many freebies, too many guys in behind us," Keefe said. "Same issues that were hurting us when we weren't winning games earlier in the season. The fact that we won is a good thing, a bit of a fortunate bounce there, to me we win the game on special teams and goaltending."

Mrazek did allow a couple of long-range goals, including that initial shot by Toews. But he settled in well and was acrobatic in making some key saves on several breakaways and 2-on-1 opportunities from Chicago.

Most notable was a breakaway attempt on Patrick Kane where he managed to squeeze his pads on the puck and prevent his momentum from taking him into the net.

It was a difficult night for rookie Kristian Rubins, who was benched after Kubalik's goal. He was on the ice for a pair of goals against and took an interference penalty early that Keefe didn't like.

"There were a number of things happening in behind Rubins tonight that were problematic," Keefe said. Late in the game, you're just trying to give a young guy like that a break and just rely on the most experienced players in that situation."

The Leafs power play continues to execute well. It was their fifth straight game in which they scored two goals with the man advantage. Coincidently the streak started at the same time they have not had Marner.

And Mrazek came out of the game feeling healthy, an important factor if the Leafs are going to have a proper tandem that allows starter Jack Campbell to have more rest.

But issues remain and the team looks  "out of sync" as Keefe has described his team over the last week.

"We've got to get back to work and obviously correct the areas that we're not sharp in," Tavares said.

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