TORONTO — The last time Patrick Kane and Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews faced each other, they put on an unforgettable show of late-game heroics and spirited one-upmanship.
More than five months later, Kane and Matthews recounted that glorious early-season moment from the Leafs’ 7-6 victory Oct. 7 at the United Center. Kane tied the game at 5 with a goal at 18:36 of the third period. Matthews responded with a goal 22 seconds later — cupping his hand to his ear in his celebration to taunt the stunned UC crowd.
But Kane did him one better, scoring another tying goal 33 seconds later — with 29 seconds left in regulation — and mocked Matthews’ celebration by cupping his hand to his ear, to the delight of the frenzied home crowd.
The Leafs won when Morgan Rielly scored 19 seconds into overtime, but the Kane-Matthews duel was the indelible moment of the night.
“I think those are the kinds of things that help grow the game,” Kane said Wednesday after the Hawks’ morning skate at Scotiabank Arena before the game against the Leafs. “You’ve got a young American player coming up who was the face of the franchise — probably one of the faces of the NHL — and a guy that’s had success in his career and maybe some players look up to him when they were younger, too.
“For us to go at it like that, and then have the celebrations like that — it was nothing planned, just raw emotion on the ice. I think that’s when the best stuff comes out. It was a pretty cool moment. I don’t think it’ll be a moment either of us will forget.”
Matthews, 21, who had 31 goals and 61 points in 55 games coming into the game Wednesday night, wasn’t quite as effusive on the subject, but he still appreciated the moment.
“For me, it was a pretty fun night — I think something you kind of always remember, I guess,” Matthews said. “Pretty cool to go head-to-head and have that kind of exchange with a guy like him, who I’ve looked up to since I was a younger kid. So it was pretty cool.”
Kane and Matthews are destined to be forever linked in the annals of American hockey. Both are No. 1 overall picks — Kane in 2007, Matthews in 2016 — who have lived up to the billing. Kane is the best American player in the game today. Matthews figures to take that mantle whenever Kane gives it up.
“[Kane is] an incredible player,’’ Matthews said. ‘‘He puts you on the edge of your seat every time he’s out there. He’s blessed. Everything he does on the ice is so smooth. But you see the work he puts in off the ice, on the ice after practice, after [morning] skates. He’s the hardest-working guy out there. That’s a testament to his drive and how great he wants to be.”
Memories of Q
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock had some memorable battles against former Hawks coach Joel Quenneville when Babcock was with the Red Wings. The Wings beat the Hawks in the Western Conference Final in 2009. Quenneville avenged that loss when the Hawks overcame a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Red Wings in the second round in 2013, en route to their second Stanley Cup.
Wednesday night’s game was the first time Babcock faced the Hawks without Quenneville as coach since 2008. Quenneville also assisted Babcock with Team Canada in the 2016 World Cup.
But Babcock was not in a particularly melancholy mood when asked about facing the Hawks without Quenneville.
“Q’s a friend of mine,” Babcock said. “I hope he’s enjoying his time. [From] the pictures I get, he is. That’s good. And he should be. [But] that’s not how I look at it. We’re playing Chicago. That’s the way it is. It’s an important game for them tonight. It’s an important game for our team — we need a good bounce-back game. Should be fun. I like their uniforms.”