Mitch Marner kept the audience hanging in his quest of the Maple Leafs’ consecutive games points record until almost the last minute.
But with 71 seconds to play, his empty-netter tied Darryl Sittler and Ed Olczyk’s mark of 18 games and sealed a 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.
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Pierre Engvall buried a fat rebound with 2:27 to play for the winner at Scotiabank Arena that also extended the team’s win streak to five straight.
Marner’s quest for the rare record began with a loss to the Sharks, but after being part of an 0-for-3 power play, it seemed his roll was through.
Back in late October, he had a goal and assist when the Leafs fell on the West Coast and since then he and the team have rocked, while he racked up seven goals and 17 assists in attempting to tie Sittler (1978) and Olczyk (1990).
A late third-period power play seemed to be his last chance, with a pass to John Tavares denied by Aaron Dell. On the night’s first shift, Marner’s line was buzzing to use his new buzzword, a couple of assist opportunities presenting themselves, starting when Mark Giordano fired wide with Dell down and out. Marner closed the period missing from in tight.
The bigger story of that opening period was Ilya Samsonov’s strong positioning on three breakaways, one save and forcing two Sharks to miss. After tidy defence on a four-game road trip, the Leafs started on the sloppy side and he had to be sharp after nearly a month off with a knee injury.
Marner was given little room much of the night, especially on back-to-back power plays in the middle period and when he was looking to shoot or pass, the puck wasn’t sitting down for him or linemates Tavares and Calle Jarnkrok. The latter departed the game after the second period with a groin injury, which restored Marner with Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting.
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Toronto’s goal in the second frame came from great patience by Mac Hollowell. The rookie defenceman let a bouncing disc settle instead of firing wildly and laid a perfect feed for Matthews to chip in his 12th of the season..
But Hollowell was also victimized minutes later when he couldn’t tie up Logan Couture enough behind the net to prevent a centring pass to Matt Nieto. Hollowell and the collective reserve blueliners have still done well considering Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, TJ Brodie and Jodie Benn are out.
Brodie came out before the rest of the optional skaters as his recovery from an oblique muscle injury ramps up.
The Leafs get Thursday off and return for one practice Friday before road games in Tampa Bay (first game since last spring’s playoff loss) and Dallas.
It was important for Nick Robertson to do well in one of his sporadic starts Wednesday, hoping to get the chance to play against brother Jason in Dallas on Tuesday.
The Sharks had plenty of gas despite playing in Montreal the night before, a 4-0 win.