TORONTO — John Tavares and the Maple Leafs were happy to secure two points in the standings.
They were also left with a tinge of disappointment.
Tavares had a goal and two assists Saturday as Toronto beat Detroit 5-4 in a game that saw the home side build leads of 3-1, 4-2 and 5-3 in the final 20 minutes only to see the Red Wings claw back each time to get within one.
"(Head coach Sheldon Keefe) addressed that after game," Tavares said. "The win should feel a little better than it does.
"We want to fix the recipe a little bit in terms of the way we finished off in the third period. We didn't dictate ... but overall, some good steps taken in certain areas."
Jake Muzzin and Alexander Kerfoot, with a goal and an assist each, Mitch Marner and Michael Bunting provided the rest of the offence for Toronto (4-4-1). Petr Mrazek made 27 saves for his first victory with the Leafs.
"Some mixed emotions," Muzzin said of the performance. "We'll take the win. We did a lot of good things.
"But we definitely have to tighten some things up and play better with the lead."
Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina, with a goal and an assist apiece, Vladislav Namestnikov and Filip Hronek replied for Detroit (4-3-2).
Thomas Greiss stopped 33 shots for the Red Wings, who were minus leading scorer Tyler Bertuzzi because he's declined to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and is unable to travel to Canada without a 14-day quarantine.
Bunting snapped a 1-1 tie — and Toronto's ugly 0-for-17 stretch with the man advantage over its last six games — when he redirected Jason Spezza's slap pass for his third goal of the season with 17.1 seconds left in second on the Leafs' first power play of the night.
Kerfoot then made it 3-1 just 17 seconds into the third when he took a pass from Tavares and beat Greiss for his second to kick off a seesaw final period.
Detroit got back within one 1:19 later when Veleno beat Mrazek for his first after Travis Dermott turned the puck over.
After the Leafs killed off a penalty, Tavares then scored his third off a Kerfoot pass on a 2-on-1 to make it 4-2 at 7:47.
"We just played quick," Tavares said of his line with Kerfoot and Marner after combining for six points. "We're just trying to keep things simple and get to our strengths."
"All three had real strong games," Keefe said of the trio. "Played with speed, made plays with the puck, they were confident, and then they were competitive."
But the Red Wings responded again at 10:11 when Namestnikov redirected his fourth after Veleno took the initial shot for the rookie's first two-point game of his NHL career in his sixth contest.
Marner appeared to put things out of reach with his first goal in 17 games dating back to last season after Greiss and Detroit defenceman Nick Leddy got their signals crossed with 2:05 left on the clock.
"He's too good of a player to be held off for too long," Kerfoot said. "He knew it was coming, we all knew it was coming.
"But for him to get his first is a little bit of a sigh of relief."
Hronek made it 5-4 on his first with Greiss on the bench and 29 seconds remaining in regulation, but Toronto held on from there for its second straight win.
The Leafs have made a habit of slow starts in their middling start to the season — including falling behind 2-0 to the winless Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday before rallying for a 3-2 overtime victory — but were shot out of a cannon early against Detroit.
Greiss, whose team was playing its third game in four nights after losing 2-1 to the Florida Panthers on Friday, held the fort with a couple of nice stops as Toronto built an 8-2 edge in shots.
The Red Wings looked poised to get out of the first period unscathed, but Muzzin gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead with 13.4 seconds left when he took a pass from T.J. Brodie and fired home his first of the campaign.
Mrazek, who made his first home start for Toronto since pulling his groin in Ottawa on Oct. 14, stopped Dylan Larkin with a nice pad stop six minutes into the second period.
Leafs winger Pierre Engvall then rang a shot off the post on a Detroit power play after intercepting a pass from rookie defenceman Moritz Seider and racing in on a break.
The Red Wings went back the other way, with Seider setting up Zadina to rip his second past Mrazek's glove at 8:19.
Drafted in the fifth round by Detroit back in 2010 before playing 166 games for the organization over six seasons, Mrazek kept things even with a nice stop on Michael Rasmussen before Bunting pushed Toronto ahead late in the period to set the stage for a back-and-forth final 20 minutes.
"We had a number of guys that had strong games," Keefe said. "In the third period, you need to be really connected, really focusing and really purposeful on how you play when you have leads. We didn't have enough to that.
"But let's not kid ourselves — it's hard to win games in this league."
Notes: Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly signed an eight-year, US$60-million contract extension Friday that stretches through the 2029-30 season. ... Toronto blue-liner Justin Holl — protected by the team in the Seattle expansion draft — was a healthy scratch. Timothy Liljegren took his spot in the lineup.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2021.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press