The Maple Leafs hope to be considered one of the top teams in the National Hockey League.
The Las Vegas Golden Knights reminded them Tuesday night that they’re not there yet.
Riley Smith tied the game with an underhanded goal in the third quarter, scoring the winning goal with 23 seconds of overtime at Scotiabank Arena to give Vegas a 4-3 win to end the Maple Leafs The team’s three-game winning streak.
After passing through California and losing four straight, the Leafs beat Philadelphia, Boston and Carolina before scoring a point against Vegas. Each of the past three opponents were at or near the top of the NHL standings when they met the Leafs.
Vegas has lost just two of its first 14 games and won eight in a row.
“Tough times against three elite teams in four nights and three games,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Five out of six feels good. We’ve come a long way in this short period of time, but tonight showed we have a long way to go in managing the game because that should be six points.”
The Leafs took a 3-2 lead in the third quarter when teammate Mike Amadeo saw Keefe’s grip stuck in the paint and Smith scored with less than eight minutes left. The Maple Leafs’ first powerhouse player was on the ice entering the Vegas minors, with Smith tying it with a 2-1 victory over goaltender Erik Kallgren. A change to put a second unit on ice was put on hold.
“Sometimes you have to be unfortunate enough to go through something like that to get a reminder that it ends up going a season,” Keefe said. “I believe this will not happen again.”
Mitch Marner said: “It’s a little disappointing to give up Game 3. We have to get off the ice a little faster. We have to watch the score, watch the time. We have to do a better job of (getting) fresher players on the ice.”
Smith hit a backhand on a breakout and beat Calgren high for the victory.
In front of an audience of 18,459, Leafs defenseman Timothy Liljegren scored his first two goals of the season.
“We passed up too many opportunities,” Liljegren said. “Our structure is not good enough. Their fluidity in the game is good.
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“I don’t see myself as a goalscorer, happy with two goals, but could have played better overall.”
The Leafs will have two days of practice before back-to-back home games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks over the Hall of Fame weekend.
Kallgren was in charge of the initial phase of the second period, doing what every goalkeeper should do – giving his teammates a chance to win. In this case, Calgren gave his teammates a chance to lead, and they were down 2-1 after entering the second inning.
Kallgren had to be keen to make three difficult saves, all involving the Golden Knights, who managed to find ice for a good look after the Leafs blunder.
Kallgren denied Keegan Kolesar and William Carrier, then blocked Smith after Mana created a chance for the Leafs.
“It’s not even defensive stuff,” Keefe said. “You can’t defend when you’re out of position and you can’t defend, they can come back at a blistering pace and you don’t have a chance to defend. They’re doing as well as anyone in the NHL.”
Goalkeeper Logan Thompson made difficult saves against William Nyland and Auston Matthews before Mana scored a fine goal.
Observers gasped when Mana equalised at 13:50. After picking the puck out along the board, Mana moved to the middle of the ice and swung past several Vegas guards. Mana then caught Thompson off guard with a shot over his own body and over the goalie’s glove into the top corner.
Liljegren then scored his second goal three minutes later to cap off a turnaround, during which the Leafs held the puck so well they appeared to be a strong game. After a fine loop, Marner threw the puck to Liljegren, and Liljegren had a quick shot that duped Thompson to the net’s side.
The Golden Knights scored in the 45th second of the first quarter when Nicolas Roy poked the puck across the goal line.
Less than five minutes later, Liljegren equalised with a beautiful pass from David Kempff, but Jack Eichel scored after a Liljegren error late in the first game.