Nick Robertson capped an emotional stretch with a moment he’s dreamed of for a long time.
The 21-year-old scored his second goal of the night in his season debut at 3:46 of overtime Thursday as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Dallas Stars 3-2.
After breaking up a play at the other end of the rink, Robertson took a pass from Auston Matthews on a 3-on-1 rush and fired past Scott Wedgewood to cap the winger’s best performance as a pro.
The 53rd pick at the 2019 draft suited up for the first time in 2022-23 after getting sent to the minors despite a strong training camp because of salary cap concerns.
But after goaltender Matt Murray was placed on long-tern injured reserve, the door swung open for the Leafs to recall Robertson.
WATCH | Robertson strikes twice in season debut, including OT winner:
“It’s been ups and down,” he said of the last few weeks. “To get sent down given cap space was definitely tough to grasp … that was tough.
“But now to get a night like this, it kind of makes up for it.”
Apart from singing Robertson’s praise, Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe credited Matthews on the winner. No one inside Scotiabank Arena would have batted an eye if last season’s 60-goal man had shot it himself.
“You’ve got the Rocket Richard Trophy winner down the pipe, and he makes the right play,” Keefe said. “He gets all the attention of the goalie and moves it over for Nick to finish it.
“A terrific moment.”
Samsonov stays undefeated
Alexander Kerfoot had the other goal for Toronto (3-2-0), while Ilya Samsonov stopped 26 shots.
“Unbelievable … first game in a season and two terrific goal,” the Leafs netminder, who improved to 3-0-0, said of Robertson.
“He’s a good shooter. Sometimes it hurts.”
Michael Bunting added two assists for the Leafs, who got the win despite going 1-for-8 on the power play.
“That team doesn’t give up much,” Kerfoot said. “Our special teams weren’t great. But we found a way.”
Tyler Seguin and Luke Glendening replied for Dallas (3-0-1), which got 40 saves from Wedgewood in his first action of the season.
“They’ve got some skill guys,” Stars head coach Peter DeBoer said. “When they’ve got the puck they’re hard to defend.
“A good road point.”
The Leafs were coming off a dismal 4-2 loss to Arizona — the NHL’s 31st-ranked team last season — on Monday that resulted in Keefe delivering a strong public message for the second time in four games to start the schedule after also blasting Toronto on the heels of a 4-3 loss to Montreal, which finished 32nd overall in 2021-22.
The Stars, meanwhile, entered having outscored their opponents 13-3 through their first three contests.
Tied 1-1 through two periods, Toronto nudged in front 1:59 into the third period when Robertson made a nice play along the boards before eventually beating Wedgewood.
“He’s dynamic offensively,” Kerfoot said. “He showed that tonight.”
Dallas got back even at 7:21 on a power play when Seguin fired from in close after Kerfoot went to the box for delay of game.
It marked the second time in as many outings the Leafs have been on the wrong end of a review. Kerfoot had a potential late tying goal negated Monday against Arizona because of a hand pass by Toronto defenceman Morgan Rielly.
“I don’t know the rules anymore,” said Marner, who was also in the middle of the review controversy three nights earlier. “It’s complicated.”
Dallas opened the scoring at 14:45 of a tentative first when Glendening banged a rebound past Samsonov.
Wedgewood, who got the call with Dallas giving Jake Oettinger the night off, didn’t have a ton to do at the other end until Toronto broke through on the power play when Kerfoot scored at 2:31 of the middle period.
Robertson would grab the headlines from there.
“I want to be consistent,” he said. “I want to play well and help the team.
“I don’t want to just have a night.”
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