Toronto 5, Pittsburgh 3
When: 7:00 PM ET, Saturday, April 8, 2017
Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario
Dan O'Halloran, Brian Pochmara
Derek Amell, David Brisebois
TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs had two previous chances to clinch their first playoff spot in four years and could not close the deal, losing two games in a row.
Although they left it late Saturday night, they got the job done with three third-period goals to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 to secure their place in the postseason.
"I'm proud of the guys, I'm excited for the guys," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "They've done a good job. I told the coaches at the start of the year if we got in it was going to be (Sunday) in Game 82.
"I thought it would be like this -- you have to really crawl in at the end. We're one game ahead of schedule. But, to be honest with you, I didn't know the kids could be this good."
After Jake Guentzel put the Penguins ahead 3-2 with his 16th goal of the season on a harmless-looking shot that deflected off the skate of Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner at 6:51 of the third, the Maple Leafs battled back.
Kasperi Kapanen scored his first career NHL goal at 14:30 of the third when he was left uncovered at the right side of the net.
Then Connor Brown notched his 20th goal of the season from the left circle, redirecting a shot by Gardiner, at 17:12 to put the Maple Leafs into the lead.
"I think the city's probably buzzing," Brown said. "I think the last two games, we played a little tight. We were relaxed and loose for the most part today and it translated into us making plays and creating offense."
Auston Matthews added his 40th goal of the season, into an empty net, at 19:57.
"It was really back and forth but to be able to pull out this one is definitely a pretty good feeling," Matthews said. "We still have business to take care of, but it's a big night for us to clinch."
The Maple Leafs accomplished all of this after losing No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen at 2:01 of the second period after he was knocked to the ice by Pittsburgh’s Tom Sestito.
Andersen, who had stopped three of four shots, left with an undisclosed injury and was replaced by Curtis McElhinney, who stopped 12 of 14 shots.
McElhinney's biggest stop came on an across-the-crease save on Sidney Crosby with 49 seconds left in the game.
"I could see someone out of the corner of my eye, I wasn't quite aware of who it was in particular, but it was a hard pass across and he didn't have a lot of time to get it up," McElhinney said. "It was just important for me to get that low coverage."
The Maple Leafs said they will know more about Andersen's status Sunday.
The Penguins had already clinched home-ice advantage against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs.
"We still show our inexperience," Babcock said. "I thought we started real good, I thought we were on it good and then as soon as something goes wrong."
James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak also scored for the Maple Leafs (40-26-15).
Former Maple Leaf Phil Kessel and Crosby also scored for Pittsburgh (50-20-11).
"Obviously, they needed the game a lot more than we did," Kessel said. "So they came out hard and got a couple of good breaks and it is what it is."
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 shots.
"They were playing for a playoff spot and they played like it," Fleury said. "They're a dangerous team. But I still thought we put ourselves in a good position to win the game."
Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead at 6:11 of the first period on the 23rd goal of the season by Kessel, who pounced on a loose puck and fired his shot from the right circle.
"It's a big goal for him, we know he's been pressing a little bit," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
The Maple Leafs struck back 29 seconds later when van Riemsdyk potted his 27th goal of the season from the high slot.
Fleury turned aside van Riemsdyk on a breakaway on the next shift.
Toronto's William Nylander hit a goal post nearing the midpoint of the first.
Toronto had a 9-4 edge in shots on goal in the first period. The teams exchanged power-play goals early in the second period.
Bozak gave Toronto a 2-1 lead at 3:30 while Sestito was serving a goaltender-interference minor after he knocked Andersen to the ice. It was Bozak's 18th goal of the season.
McElhinney replaced Andersen and allowed Crosby's 44th goal of the season at 7:55 of the second period after Toronto's Nikita Zaitsev was sent off on a delay-of-game penalty.
NOTES: The Penguins recalled C Kevin Porter and G Tristan Jarry from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Saturday, an indication that players could be rested as the team prepares for the playoffs. Porter was in the lineup on Saturday and Jarry backed up G Marc-Andre Fleury. ... Penguins C Evgeni Malkin (shoulder) and D Olli Maatta (hand) are close to returning from their injuries but did not play Saturday. RW Patric Hornqvist, C Nick Bonino, LW Chris Kunitz, RW Bryan Rust, D Brian Dumoulin and G Matt Murray also did not dress for Pittsburgh. ... The Maple Leafs finish their regular-season schedule Sunday at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets. ... The Penguins wrap up their regular season Sunday when they visit the New York Rangers.
Top Game Performances
Jake Guentzel 2
Tyler Bozak 2
Jake Guentzel 1
Tyler Bozak 1
Jake Guentzel 1
Jake Gardiner 2
Sidney Crosby 1
||Power Play Goals
Tyler Bozak 1
||Short Handed Goals
Marc-Andre Fleury .862
Curtis McElhinney .857
Marc-Andre Fleury 25
Curtis McElhinney 12
Team Stats Summary
||Face Offs Won
Toronto will play their next game at home against Columbus. The Maple Leafs have a W/L % of .487 after a win and .500 after a loss.
Pittsburgh will play their next game on the road against NY Rangers. The Penguins have a W/L % of .620 after a win and .613 after a loss.