| November 5, 2021, 2:47 AM
November 5, 2021, 2:47 AM
TORONTO — It was the captain who willed the Toronto Maple Leafs to the extra frame, grabbing the puck out of mid-air before roofing it behind Andrei Vasilevskiy for a last-minute lifeline. It was Toronto’s own No. 88 who sealed the deal, besting his numbered twin in overtime to snatch what was set to be an easy win from the defending champs’ clutches.
But before they got anywhere near those spectacular final moments, before his club managed to come alive and prove their mettle, it all came down to Jack Campbell.
Fresh off a shutout against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday that earned his team its third straight victory, Campbell punched the clock and went back to work Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena, standing on his head to keep his Maple Leafs alive through 59 sluggish, uninspiring minutes.
He finished the night with just 24 saves to show for his work, but don’t get it twisted. Had it not been for No. 36, there would’ve been no last-minute heroics, no overtime clincher, no four-game win streak.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe pointed to a few particularly heart-stopping moments when heaping praise on his netminder following the game, Campbell putting in his best work late in the third.
The first came with roughly nine minutes left on the board.
“We’re really trying to push and trying to find our way through a very tight neutral zone, and they’re defending hard,” Keefe said. “Then they counter, and then all of a sudden, here come some of the best players in the world in alone on you. And the game essentially on the line.”
Unfortunately for Campbell and his Leafs, that grade-A chance from Brayden Point — the highest scorer not named ‘Nikita Kucherov’ during both of the Lightning’s recent Cup runs — wasn’t just a momentary breakdown, but the beginning of a wave.
Two minutes later, it was two-time Rocket Richard winner Steven Stamkos:
A minute after that, Point tried his hand again:
Soon after, it was Stamkos — again. With time and space to do some damage — again.
But the dam held.
The storm passed.
And Toronto, somehow, remained only a shot away. After seeing their netminder leave it all on the sheet to give them a chance at redeeming a woeful night, the Maple Leafs took the fight to the other end of the rink.
“That just speaks to Jack, in terms of his mindset of standing in there and keeping our team alive from that moment,” said Keefe. “I think that’s just a tremendous sign. We don’t want to put him in that position, obviously. But it’s great for him and his confidence, and just further instills the belief that we have in him, in terms of his ability to have our back and give us a chance.”
The cage opposite Campbell’s featured no fewer heroics, as Vasilevskiy managed a perfect 28 saves through 59 minutes of work before John Tavares whipped one by him in the final seconds of the third.
“It’s a hard-fought game by both teams,” Campbell said of the nail-biter. “Vasilevskiy’s amazing and played great tonight. … He makes it tough. And it’s fun — he sets the bar. It’s just fun to battle.”
That battle level didn’t go unnoticed by his blue and white brethren, who’ve come to expect performances like this from the steady No. 36.
“I mean, he had like two breakaways, a couple back-door saves — it’s something that just keeps amazing you about how hard he works every single day,” Mitch Marner said of his netminder after the comeback win was in the books. “He’s a one-of-a-kind person, one-of-a-kind player, and it’s amazing watching him out there, just excelling and getting better every single day.”
With the win in tow, Toronto moves to 6-4-1 on the season, heading into a Saturday night tilt with the Boston Bruins sporting four straight W’s.
Getting the fourth was no picnic, with Marner taking an elbow up high from Mikhail Sergachev, Campbell nearly getting run over by his own defender Jake Muzzin as he allowed the only goal that did beat him Thursday night, and the Maple Leafs coming dangerously close to seeing Tuesday’s progress so quickly undone.
For now, though, they’re just focusing on the two points.
“Winning feels great,” said Campbell. “So we’ll take any bumps and bruises to get a win like that.”