TORONTO — Mitch Marner inexplicably looked to pass with history on his stick and an empty net staring him down.
The Maple Leafs winger then fired another shot wide of the yawning cage in Wednesday's waning moments, narrowly missing another chance at glory as the Scotiabank Arena crowd groaned.
Marner would get one more opportunity to etch his name in the record books of the team he cheered for as a kid.
This time — finally — he didn't miss.
Marner scored into an empty net to tie the franchise record by registering a point in 18 straight games after Pierre Engvall put Toronto ahead with 2:27 left in regulation as the Leafs defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-1.
Marner now shares the mark with Darryl Sittler (1977-78) and Eddie Olcyzk (1989-90), but not after some nervous moments.
"Yeah, I mean, did you see me? I can't wait to talk to my father," the 25-year-old said when asked if there was a sense of relief. "He's gonna be like, 'What the hell are you doing on that pass for the first one? (Leafs winger Michael Bunting), on the bench, when he looked at me couldn't believe I tried to pass to him, too.
"He was pissed."
Marner is the 23rd player in NHL history with a point streak of at least 18 games, putting up seven goals and 17 assists during his red-hot run.
"The first few tries we're just like, 'What are you doing? Like, just put it in the net and let's go home … let's get this over with,'" Auston Matthews, who had the Leafs' other goal, said of Marner's late miscues.
"Just really happy that it ended up going in."
Ilya Samsonov made 23 saves for Toronto (15-5-5), while Alexander Kerfoot had two assists.
Matt Nieto replied for San Jose (8-14-4). Aaron Dell, briefly a member of the Leafs in 2020-21 before getting claimed on waivers, stopped 29 shots with the Sharks on a back-to-back.
"It's all on me," said San Jose centre Tomas Hertl, who turned the puck over on Engvall's goal. "Cost us two points because I made a stupid play."
Toronto, which was coming off a four-game road sweep of New Jersey, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Detroit, improved to 8-0-2 over its last 10 games and 11-1-4 over its last 16.
Engvall buried his third goal of the season off a Kerfoot rebound following Hertl's giveaway.
Marner then had those two chances at the open net before finally burying his eighth with 1:11 left in regulation for his record-tying point that was saluted with a raucous applause in his hometown.
"That meant a lot," said the product of nearby Markham, Ont. "A kid growing up (here), would have never expected this."
Samsonov, meanwhile, predicted the streak would continue Tuesday, and the netminder was proven right.
"I looked to the future," he said with a grin.
"Made it interesting," Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe added of Marner. "You start to feel like maybe it's just not going to happen.
"But he stayed with it."
Marner and Matthews, who set the franchise record with 60 goals on the way to winning last season's Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy, shared a special moment on the bench after the empty netter.
"Been through a lot together," Marner said. "Obviously want to try to achieve great things together as well. I was with him in those big moments when he had them last year. For him to just be that happy and that excited for me meant a lot.
"He's my brother."
The Leafs, meanwhile, have largely been fine minus their injured top-3 defencemen — Morgan Rielly (knee), T.J. Brodie (oblique) and Jake Muzzin (neck) — but were lucky to get out of Wednesday's first unscathed after giving up three breakaways and two dangerous odd-man rushes.
"Nice warmup," Samsonov joked. "Thank you … defencemen. I needed a little bit of confidence back."
Toronto took a 1-0 lead at 4:19 of the second when rookie blue-liner Mac Hollowell, recently elevated from the AHL, found Matthews with a slap pass for his 12th.
"Beautiful play," Matthews said. "Great vision, great poise."
San Jose responded at 7:26 when Logan Couture fed Nieto for his sixth on Samsonov, who returned to the lineup after missing the last 12 games with a sore knee, before the late drama provided by Marner's misfires — and eventual history-making moment.
"Definitely kind of start stressing about it," Marner said. "But you try not to."
"We were losing it a little bit there," Matthews added with a smile. "It was getting a little scary.
"Third time's a charm."
Toronto's Calle Jarnkrok suffered a groin injury in the second period and did not return. Keefe said he will have imaging done Thursday to determine the extent of the damage, but added the dependable forward will miss some time.
Leafs: Visit Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Sharks: Visit Ottawa on Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press