William Nylander scores in overtime, Maple Leafs down Wild 2-1
TORONTO — William Nylander lost the puck before quickly stealing it back.
Then his eyes lit up.
Wild forward Matt Boldy was the only skater standing in the way of a game-clinching moment in Friday's extra period.
The Maple Leafs winger didn't miss.
Nylander stripped Frederick Gaudreau before dangling around Boldy and outwaiting Filip Gustavsson on a jaw-dropping individual effort at 1:05 of overtime as Toronto defeated Minnesota 2-1
"I knew there was a forward there," Nylander said after bagging his 33rd goal of the season. "Just tried to take it to the net. I saw that he was kind of flat-footed.
"It was gonna be hard if I came with some speed."
Impossible, it turns out, on a night with little action at either end until the decisive sequence.
"Our forwards have that quality — they can strip guys of pucks," Leafs defenceman Mark Giordano said of Nylander's thievery. "Willie's one of the best in the league at it. You're never safe around him when he's behind you like that. Then the play, the move to the net, was pretty incredible.
"Nice one to see from the bench."
David Kampf had the other goal for Toronto (36-15-8), which got 24 saves from Ilya Samsonov. Nylander added an assist to cement his second consecutive 70-point campaign.
"No surprise for me right now," Samosonov said of his talented teammate's numbers. "He scores all the time … I'm so happy (to) play with these guys."
The Leafs improved to 6-8 in OT in 2022-23 after starting an ugly 1-6. That forced head coach Sheldon Keefe to tweak his approach in 3-on-3 by putting a defensive forward out to take the initial faceoff.
Toronto lost Friday's draw against Minnesota, but got the puck back and was able to change against some tired legs on the other side.
Nylander jumped into the action and did the rest.
"Overtime was an issue for us," Keefe said. "We changed our strategy a little bit in terms of how we started, how we deploy the guys. The luck has gone our way a little bit in terms of getting us more time with the puck.
"It's given more opportunities for players like Will to make plays like that."
Brandon Duhaime replied for Minnesota (32-21-6). Gustavsson made 22 stops as the Wild saw their four-game winning streak snapped after beating Columbus 2-0 on Thursday.
"Absolutely everything," Minnesota head coach Dean Evason said when asked what he liked about his team's performance against a rested, high-powered roster. "We liked everything about our game tonight — except missing one point."
The Leafs, who are set to head out on a five-game road trip that includes their annual swing through Western Canada, won't play again at Scotiabank Arena until March 11.
"We're going to be in a lot of those games down the stretch and in the playoffs," Giordano said of Friday's razor-thin margin. "You gotta take what's there and not force it, not get frustrated."
The third organization involved in last week's three-team trade that saw the Leafs acquire forwards Ryan O'Reilly and Noel Acciari from St. Louis, the Wild opened the scoring in the first period on a strange sequence that saw Duhaime's centring pass go off Toronto's Calle Jarnkrok and sneak by Samsonov for his seventh.
The Leafs responded before the period was out when Kampf scored his sixth from in tight off a Nylander setup.
Playing their first game against an opponent in a post-season spot at the start of play since Feb. 1 against Boston, the Leafs got a power play in the second, but were unable to find a way past Gustavsson, whose only other appearance against Toronto came in May 2021 in a 4-3 overtime victory when he was with Ottawa.
The Leafs' fifth-ranked man advantage got another opportunity with under eight minutes left in the third, but the Minnesota goaltender was equal to a Nylander one-timer.
The Wild went to their first power play with less than four minutes remaining in regulation only to have Samsonov and Toronto's penalty killers hold firm to force OT.
"Patience is huge," said Nylander, whose three OT goals this season are tied for the league lead. "We're 1-1 through 60 minutes. We don't want to worry and try to force plays.
"We'll grind them out."
And then on nights like Friday, win it on a breathtaking moment late.
Giordano entered play three blocked shots short of Kris Russell's NHL record of 2,044.
The 39-year-old was credited with three through 40 minutes against the Wild, but will have to wait a little longer to set the new mark in a category the NHL only started tracking consistently in 2005-06.
"Something I've done all my career," Giordano said of putting his body on the line. "I play a lot of penalty kill, so you're gonna be in those positions."
Acciari shared the story this week about how he got the "Cookie" nickname from Florida teammate Keith Yandle.
"There were no cookies at pre-game meal," said the Johnston, R.I., product. "I didn't throw a fit, but was a little upset.
"Keith helped me get that in the pre-game meals."
So what's the cookie situation in Toronto?
"Very good," Acciari said with a smile. "Very happy with them."
Leafs: Visit Seattle on Sunday.
Wild: Host Columbus on Sunday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2023.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press