Maple Leafs, led by Bunting’s hat-trick, return to beat Red Wings

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Hockey night in Scarborough, actually.

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And Michael Bunting hit one out of the park for the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

During a night when his hometown was featured on CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada, Bunting recorded his second National Hockey League hat-trick, helping the Leafs rally to beat the Detroit Red Wings 7-4 at Little Caesar’s Arena.

Bunting scored two goals in the third, as the Leafs blew out a two-goal deficit and scored five unanswered, including blanks by Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

“It was a pretty special night for me and Simmer (teammate Wayne Simmonds), growing up in Scarborough and having Hockey Night there,” Bunting said. “It’s funny, (Jason) Spezza said you can’t write that, get a hat-trick on the night of Scarborough.

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“It was a fun night to be a part of, coming back and getting that win makes it even sweeter to be able to get a treble.”

Bunting scored two goals in a span of 2 1/2 minutes (he has 12 this season, a career high) and the second tied the game at 11:58 on a great pass from Marner.

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Rasmus Sandin’s first of the season was the winner at 17:09 and was the result of an excellent drive from Tavares before beating Wings goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic.

“The bunts competed all night,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “A great night for him. It’s fitting that he introduces himself that way (when he honors Scarborough), excellent to see a guy who just races around.”

Marner extended his scoring streak to five games, marking the first time he had scored five in a row in the NHL.

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The Leafs seemed headed for what would have been an embarrassing loss before they found their footing.

Detroit, which is not in a playoff spot and is now 13 points behind the Leafs in the Atlantic Division, used its speed to take it from the visitors in the first two periods.

The Wings, who won the night before in Pittsburgh, had a 4-2 lead at the second intermission.

Captain Dylan Larkin scored two goals, including the opening goal in the second minute of the first period, and a power play goal late in the second.
After Pierre Engvall tied the game for the Leafs in the first, Vlad Namestnikov took advantage of a great rebound from Petr Mrazek to restore the Wings’ one-goal lead early in the second. Just 55 seconds later, Tyler Bertuzzi hit a shot past Mrazek following a Marner fumble in the neutral zone.

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Bunting got his first at 12:07 of the second, deflecting a shot from Justin Holl, before Larkin scored at 15:54 after the Leafs were called for too many men.

Keefe wisely returned to familiar lines as his team struggled at halftime, bringing together Auston Matthews, Marner and Bunting in the top row, and Tavares between Alex Kerfoot and William Nylander in the second row.

“Our best people made big plays in the third period,” Keefe said. “The most important thing was to stop the bleeding defensively.

“It’s a big win for us, not a big game for us, but a big win for sure.”

The Leafs had a bumpy night against Mrazek, and the goalkeeper was also unspectacular in his sixth game with Toronto. Jeff Marek reported on the telecast during the second intermission that teams have called about the possibility of acquiring Mrazek, but the possibility of anything commercial happening won’t be until the summer, if at all.

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With Mrazek saddled with a salary cap of $3.8 million over the next two seasons, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas would have to listen when the phone rings. The Leafs will need every penny to sign Jack Campbell, and an endorsement could be had at a cheaper price. Joseph Woll was good in an early look this season and could be a viable option to be Campbell’s backup in 2022-23 and beyond.

Mrazek is sure to get another start before the All-Star break in the Leafs’ straight set with New Jersey on Monday and Tuesday. Campbell will start Monday in Toronto.

“Every game that I get the chance to play, I’m happy and I try to do the best I can,” said Mrazek. “It was a difficult first half of the season for me (with injuries). Every time I’m inside, be positive and focused.”

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

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