TORONTO — After experimenting with his lines at the start of the game, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe considered reverting back to the norm after some second-period struggles on Monday.
He decided to stick with it and that proved to be a wise call.
The new-look line of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman came through in a wild third period to help Toronto come back for an 8-6 victory over Carolina in a matinee at Scotiabank Arena.
“We just felt that there’s potential there, that something could spark itself and get going,” Keefe said.
Marner scored two goals and added an assist over a memorable 59-second burst midway through the third that swung the game back in the Leafs’ favour.
“Our adrenalin was so high,” said Marner, who had a game-high five points. ”I think in that moment, you’re just riding the high. You feel like you can play forever.”
Matthews, Jason Spezza, William Nylander, John Tavares, Tyson Barrie and Pierre Engvall, with an empty-netter, also scored for the Maple Leafs (20-14-4), who have won five straight games.
In the third, Matthews provided a highlight-reel, spinning cross-ice pass that Marner buried at 11:01 to pull Toronto within one.
Hyman and Marner earned assists on Barrie’s goal at 11:54. After a Carolina timeout, Marner caught his breath, slipped through the Hurricanes’ defence and scored the go-ahead goal on a slick deke just six seconds later.
“He’s a really great player and he’s fun to play with,” Matthews said. “I think we just try to feed off each other like we did tonight.”
Martin Necas and Erik Haula had two goals apiece for the Hurricanes (22-13-2) while Brock McGinn and Andrei Svechnikov added singles. Necas led Carolina with four points.
“We had the game in hand and just fell asleep,” said Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour. “Took a little breath and against a team that has some high-end talent, you can’t do that.”
Toronto scored three times before the game was six minutes old but the Hurricanes responded by scoring five straight goals to lead 5-3 after 40 minutes.
“It was obviously a roller-coaster, a bit of a run-and-gun kind of game,” Matthews said.
Toronto attacked from the start and was rewarded when Spezza scored 30 seconds in. Tavares fed the puck in front of the net and when Brett Pesce couldn’t clear it, Spezza chipped it in on the backhand.
Pesce’s tough period continued moments later when he raised his stick into Hyman’s face in front of the net. The Maple Leafs took advantage with two goals on the ensuing double-minor penalty.
Nylander was left alone in the slot and wired a wrist shot past former Leafs goalie James Reimer at 3:40. The Toronto power-play unit clicked again at 5:10 when Spezza fed Tavares by the side of the net and he roofed it to make it 3-0.
Reimer was yanked after giving up three goals on seven shots. He was replaced by Petr Mrazek and the Hurricanes seemed to feed off the change.
McGinn had a shorthanded goal at 13:49 and Necas added a power-play marker at 19:35 with a nifty redirect of a Lucas Wallmark point shot.
Carolina continued to press in the second period. Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen made a couple of impressive stops as chants of “Fred-dy! Fred-dy!” thundered down from the announced crowd of 19,176.
But the crowd was silenced later in the stanza as the Hurricanes struck for three goals in a 64-second span. A brutal Morgan Rielly giveaway led to a game-tying goal from Necas at 15:09.
Necas assisted on Haula’s goal 20 seconds later and Svechnikov made it 5-3 at 16:13 to suck most of the air out of the building.
Early in the third period, Hyman found Matthews by the faceoff circle and the Toronto sniper buried a one-timer at 2:35 to cut the deficit. Haula responded with a one-timer of his own at 5:58.
Andersen said his teammates refused to let up despite the Carolina pressure.
“We came out really good in the third even though they regained their two-goal lead,” he said. “We just said, ‘Screw it, we’ll play the last 10 and give it our all.’ The guys were unbelievable.”
Carolina outshot Toronto 40-39. Announced attendance for the holiday season matinee was 19,176.
Former Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner, now with the Hurricanes, received a nice ovation after a video tribute was played early in the first period. Gardiner was making his return after spending eight NHL seasons in Toronto.
Notes: Canadian PGA Tour golfer Corey Conners was in attendance. … Tavares had three points in a period for the 10th time in his career. His personal best was a four-point effort for the New York Islanders against Tampa Bay in 2011. … Marner extended his point streak to eight games. … With school on winter break, thousands of kids took in the Next Gen Game.