NHL viewers club: That time an emergency backup goalie beat the Maple Leafs

Zamboni driver reflects on filling in as emergency NHL goalie (1:02)

Emergency backup goalie David Ayres says he was weak in the knees after having to step on the ice and play for the Hurricanes against the Maple Leafs. (1:02)

Today's game: Carolina Hurricanes at Toronto Maple Leafs, played on Saturday, Feb. 22.

It's a "Hockey Night in Canada" telecast for a Saturday night game between the Canes and Leafs. Both of these teams have playoff aspirations, had a few bumps to start the season, but found themselves in decent shape for this tilt. This matchup pitted two high-flying offenses, so we know we're in for a fun one on the rewatch.

Just how fun? Well, let's just say few people predicted the transcendent impact of this game. With twists, turns, injuries galore, a folk hero is born. This is the night when the word "EBUG" enters our common lexicon. Yes, it's the David Ayres game.

Go here to watch a replay of the game, and follow along below with our handy guide:

Best moments of the game

Everything David Ayres. See below for the timeline on this surreal and incredible moment, but a couple of points on this. First, it's just incredible to experience this game again. A lot of us have seen the highlights or revisited parts of the game, but to watch this dream for an emergency goalie -- and utter nightmare for the Maple Leafs -- unfold in real time is extraordinary. Second, when he lifts his mask at 1:36:45, please tell us we're not alone in wondering, albeit briefly, if this was actually former Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, incognito. Spitting images, those two.

Nino's blast. Nino Niederreiter's power-play goal at 9:53 of the second period that gave the Canes the lead -- for good, actually -- is a wobbly missle over the shoulder of Frederik Andersen from the top of the circle. Remember those plastic rockets you pumped up with water to launch into the sky? It was like that.

Foegele's steal. Warren Foegele's goal just 53 seconds into the third period was the most critical goal of the game, after the Leafs had put two past Ayres in the second period. And what an individual effort: converting a turnover with a nifty move in tight on Andersen.

The boos became cheers. Oh, the Leafs fans were not happy near the end of this one. Boos cascaded down to the ice as the Carolina defense kept Toronto's shot totals down and their scoring chances benign. But as the clock hit "0.0," an amazing thing happened: The boos turned to cheers as the fans acknowledged Ayers, who stopped the last shot he faced, and the history they had witnessed. Even if it was at the expense of their team.

Players to watch

David Ayres, G, Carolina Hurricanes. This is why you're here. The 42-year-old emergency backup goaltender (EBUG!) enters the game at 8:41 of the second period for the Hurricanes, after goalie Petr Mrazek sustained an upper-body injury in a collision with Maple Leafs forward Kyle Clifford in a race for the puck. The rest is NHL history: After giving up two goals on his first three shots faced, Ayres -- with a major assist from the Hurricanes' defense -- would stop seven shots in the third period to become the oldest goalie in NHL history to win his regular-season debut.

Warren Foegele, LW, Carolina Hurricanes. He played only 12:42 for the game, but 10:49 of it was at even strength, and boy did he make an impact there. Foegele's line with Jordan Staal and Justin Williams generated two goals -- both by Foegele -- and a 9-3 shot advantage that was the best of any line in the game.

Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs star played 20:27, more than any other Toronto forward. He didn't tally a point in the game, which is one of the reasons to keep an eye on him: Matthews got four shots on goal, including two in the third period, and tried to create offense in a variety of other ways; but, he saw Jaccob Slavin for 9:52 of his 15:15 of even-strength ice time, and that was a matchup the Hurricanes won. If nothing else, watch for Matthews' resplendent mustache.


Power plays

  • Hurricanes at 3:07 of the first period (Zach Hyman gets two minutes for interference against Jaccob Slavin)

  • Maple Leafs at 6:10 of the first period (Andrei Svechnikov gets two minutes for boarding against Tyson Barrie)

  • Maple Leafs at 9:31 of the first period (Nino Niederreiter gets two minutes for roughing Kasperi Kapanen)

  • Hurricanes at 8:44 of the second period (William Nylander gets two minutes for high sticking Brett Pesce)

  • Hurricanes at 11:19 of the second period (Kyle Clifford gets two minutes for charging against Petr Mrazek)

  • Maple Leafs at 15:39 of the second period (Erik Haula gets two minutes for slashing against Auston Matthews)

  • Maple Leafs at 5:55 of the third period (Warren Foegele gets two minutes for hooking Denis Malgin)

  • Hurricanes at 9:31 of the third period (Alex Kerfoot gets two minutes for hooking Trevor van Riemsdyk)

David Ayres timeline

1:29 of the telecast: With 8:41 remaining in the second period, Petr Mrazek goes down, which gives us our first hint that EBUG action could be happening.

1:30: The first mention of David Ayres! The broadcasters mispronounce his last name though, like it's the Aries Zodiac sign. "David Aries could potentially be needed tonight."

1:32: The booth sends it down to reporter Kyle Bukauskas, who gives us our first scouting report of Ayres. "What a night this could potentially become here," Bukauskas says. Bukauskas first tells us that Ayres is "an Ontario boy" who "played some Junior B hockey back in his day." Bukauskas reports that Ayres is 42 years old, has "toiled around some minor-league camps" and has been around the Leafs and Marlies the past few years, both as a Zamboni driver and as an extra body when the teams need a practice goalie. "Well familiar with the Maple Leafs organization, and maybe thrust into action tonight," Bukauskas says, before throwing it to a break.

1:35: Ayres walks through the tunnel! He gets fist pumps from his new Canes teammates. We get a shot of Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour on the bench. He looks incredulous.

1:36: The refs throw some pucks on the ice and let Canes players give Ayres a mini warmup. It's our first real look at Ayres' gear, and it's hard not to notice his Marlies helmet and Marlies pads sandwiching his Hurricanes jersey. Weird!

1:40: Ayres touches the puck! He comes out of the net to shovel the puck around the boards, with the crowd cheering the effort. The Canes subsequently score to go up 4-1. Maybe this won't be so bad after all.

1:42: John Tavares scores on Ayres. It's the first shot that Ayres faced, and he barely had a chance at it. Forget what we said two minutes ago, this might be really, really bad. 4-2 Canes.

1:44: Pierre Engvall scores another one for the Leafs. 4-3 Canes. Second shot Ayres faced. Big yikes.

1:46: Carolina's Erik Haula gets called for slashing. Leafs power play. Pray for Ayres.

1:48: Canes kill off the penalty and don't allow a shot. Ayres has just over two minutes to get to intermission. Allowing only those two goals would be a win at this point.

1:51: Ayres makes his first save! He has no idea where the puck is. Who cares!

1:53: Ayres escapes the period while still maintaining a lead. He gets stick taps from several Canes -- as well as Leafs, like William Nylander and Frederik Anderson. Auston Matthews skates by him, too. Maybe Matthews whispered something into Ayres ear, but it sure looks like he snubbed him.

2:11: We're back! And the Canes score in the first minute. If the Leafs are going to win this, they need to generate more offense. They've only registered three shots on Ayres so far, and, as the broadcast notes, almost look too timid to shoot.

2:21: The Leafs get a much-needed power play. The Canes have amped things up defensively and the broadcasters call this a "must-score" situation for Toronto, down three goals in the third.

2:23: Zach Hyman is right in front of the net, but there is Ayres, square and deep in the net, in perfect position to make the save.

2:34: Awesome slow-motion shot of Ayres laughing on the Canes' bench with one of his new teammates. Just eight minutes left in the game to seal the win. "It's good that he's settled in now," the broadcast notes. "It looks like he's enjoying it!"

2:45: Ayres stops the last shot he faces, from Clifford, and the Canes swarm him. "Books can be written about what has happened here tonight."

2:47: Ayres is named the No. 1 star. But stick around for his postgame interview.

Best dressed coach

Even though Rod Brind'amour is now an accomplished NHL head coach, it's still odd to see the 20-season veteran player dressed like a lobbyist. (Or, since he's known as Rod The Bod, simply wearing a shirt.) His off-white shirt and striped-tie ensemble looked sharp, but Sheldon Keefe's wide-collared shirt with eye-catching lavender tie gets the nod over Rod.

Best Jim Hughson ad read

"A big party means big trouble for Kate's PR firm and Anne's teenage daughter. 'Workin' Mums!' A new episode on Tuesday at 9:30, only on CBC." (40:40)

Most random crowd shot

We have a trade to announce. Granted, it's not all that random to have a shot of the Maple Leafs' general manager during a "Hockey Night in Canada" game, but Kyle Dubas was featured early in the first period because there was a trade transacted, two days before the NHL trade deadline. And it was a blockbuster: The Leafs dealt Ben Harpur to Nashville for Miikka Salomaki. OK, perhaps considered a blockbuster only in the Harpur and Salomaki households, but a trade's a trade. (36:00)

Worst decision

With 8:41 left in the second period, Kyle Clifford chases the puck deep on a breakaway. Canes goaltender Petr Mrazek comes way out of the net and tries to beat Clifford to the puck. Why oh why would Mrazek do this? Clifford happens to be one of the Leafs' biggest and toughest players. Mrazek, who played the night before, has already come into the game in relief, which makes the play only riskier.

The two players collide and Mrazek's helmet comes flying off. He's shaken and needs to be attended to by trainers. The refs initially gave Clifford a five-minute major for charging, which was later reduced to a minor. Mrazek exits the game. Enter David Ayres ... so maybe it wasn't all bad.

Other highlights and lowlights

  • With 16:53 left in the first period, the dominoes begin to fall leading to Ayres eventually entering the game. In this case, the domino was shaped like Slavin, who was shoved onto Carolina goalie James Reimer by Toronto's Zach Hyman. Reimer stayed down for a bit, was checked by the Carolina trainer and then exited the game.

  • Andrei Svechnikov's shove from behind on Tyson Barrie launched the Leafs' defenseman into the end boards and sent him off the ice for the rest of the first period. Barrie would return, but a scary moment for an already depleted Leafs' blue line.

  • Brett Pesce's injury at 13:36 of the second period, right as Ayres gave up that goal to Tavares. Lost in all the EBUG hysteria after the game was the fact that the Hurricanes were able to shut down the Leafs with a Zamboni driver in goal and without one of their top defensemen for nearly half the game.

  • Check out the play by now-former Hurricane Erik Haula on Martin Necas' third-period goal. He lunges with his stick to tap the puck over Andersen and off the crossbar, leaving the Leafs baffled as to where it landed. In front of Martin Necas, actually, who shot it into a vacated net.

Lingering questions we have after this game

  • Is the Leafs' offense fundamentally broken? It's hard to undersell just how badly the Leafs blew this game. This is the only team in the league with three forwards making $10 million or more per season; Toronto's roster is built to go toe-to-toe with anyone in a high-scoring affair. But over a period and a half playing against a 42-year-old EBUG -- whom they are familiar with! -- Toronto mustered just two goals and 10 shots. When Sheldon Keefe took over as coach, it appeared he freed the Leafs' stars, creatively, but maybe that wasn't sustainable.

  • Where did this Canes defense come from, and can it show up every game? Once the Canes regrouped after the second period intermission, they played a stingy defensive game that was inspiring. Carolina had been a little shaky on the blue line, seeing their team goals-against average sink from 2.70 goals per game a season ago to 2.84 this season. The Canes traded Justin Faulk on the eve of the season, lost Dougie Hamilton to injury in January, and their big free agent acquisition, Jake Gardiner, hasn't exactly meshed. The Canes played the third period without one of their top defensemen, Brett Pesce (who would leave the game after attempting to check Tavares, and ended up undergoing shoulder surgery a few days later that has him sidelined four to six months). Nonetheless, it was an incredible defensive effort from Brind'Amour's team. Maintain that standard with this offense, and the Canes sure could make a run.

  • Did the NHL have an "EBUG" problem? During the game, Brian Burke of Sportsnet blasted the fact that a goalie as old as Ayres was the emergency option, saying "it was embarrassing for the NHL." NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly hinted that the league would explore the issue and potential fixes for it. The league's general managers didn't feel it needed any remedy, keeping the EBUG rules as they were at a subsequent meeting. But if this ever happened again, and the results weren't as storybook for the team with the emergency, could squashing the current EBUG rules become a possibility again?