HAMILTON There was pomp, there was circumstance and there were a lot of blue sweaters when the Maple Leafs faced the Buffalo Sabres in Sunday’s outdoor Heritage Classic at Tim Hortons Field.
There was also another goal from Auston Matthews, his 45th of the season.
What there wasn’t, however, was a win for goalie Petr Mrázek because there was maybe too much Vinnie Hinostroza and Peyton Krebs, who each scored twice in Buffalo’s 5-2 victory.
Mrázek was having a pretty good game, and had made a few big saves through 40 minutes, until Hinostroza’s goal from the corner in the third period had observers looking to the heavens.
Buffalo’s fourth goal, Krebs’s second, was a bit controversial, allowed even after Mrázek’s motion to get into position resulted in the net coming off the moorings. The goal withstood video review, though the goalie had words with officials.
It marked the 10th time in the last 12 games that the Leafs had surrendered at least four goals in a game.
Matthews also took his frustrations out after having been cross-checked twice, retaliating on Rasmus Dahlin. Matthews’ cross-check in return caught Dahlin dangerously in the neck.
The game went from a slow, almost eventless first period into a quick second with three goals in the first three minutes of the middle frame, four overall and a 2-2 tie heading into the third.
Ondrej Kaše opened the scoring, finishing off a play started when John Tavares won a draw to William Nylander. Kaše scooped up the rebound just 40 seconds into the period.
The Sabres got it back just 41 seconds later, when Timothy Liljegren skated out of his zone at full speed and was stripped of the puck by Hinostroza, who set up Krebs at 1:21.
Matthews’s one-timer at 2:57 re-established the Leafs’s lead. He became the second active player with at least 45 goals in his first 56 games of any season. Alex Ovechkin got to 45 in 54 games in 2007-08, the year he went on to score 65.
But midway through the period, bad luck struck when defenceman T.J. Brodie stuck out his skate to intercept a pass in the slot, about 15 feet from the Leafs net. But the puck took an unlucky turn toward the net and Mrázek wasn’t there to stop it.
The pre-game hoopla included an appearance by Canada’s women’s hockey team, swaying together during “O Canada.” In the second intermission they were feted again, including a military flyby after player introductions.
The Leafs started the game into the wind, which became such a factor that the league instituted a hard-whistle at the 10-minute mark of the third for the teams to switch ends, so that both played 30 minutes each direction in all.
A total of 26,119 fans took in the game, a sellout and the largest crowd to see a hockey game in Canada since 33,518 saw a Winnipeg-Calgary Heritage Classic at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Oct. 26, 2019.
Dressed for success
The Leafs entered Tim Hortons Field prior to warm-ups in orange coveralls and yellow hard hats, paying homage to Steeltown’s Stelco heritage. Coach Sheldon Keefe said it was the players’ idea.
“It’s a terrific opportunity to honour a terrific company, a 100-year-old company … with terrific men and women who have been a staple of this community here in Hamilton.”
Stelco was formed in 1910, the Leafs in 1917 (wearing blue sweaters with a white T, emulated on Sunday). The steel mills (Stelco was bought by U.S. Steel in 2007) were part of the backdrop for the game.
The Sabres showed up dressed like the fictional Flint Tropics basketball team from the Will Ferrell comedy “Semi-Pro.” Coach Don Granato said the idea of making a grand entrance at outdoor games is a fine tradition.
“It’s fun,” said Granato. “It’s what it should be.”
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