The Toronto Maple Leafs took advantage of an opportunity to gain ground in the race for an Eastern Conference playoff spot, as Auston Matthews tied David Pastrnak for the NHL goal scoring lead in a 4-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, ON on Saturday.
Matthews scored his 42nd goal of the season, Jake Muzzin, William Nylander, Mitch Marner scored for Toronto, and Jack Campbell held off a late Ottawa charge, making 25 saves for his third victory since being acquired by the Leafs on February 5th.
Toronto bolted out to a 3-0 lead midway through the second on goals from Matthews, Muzzin, and Nylander before Sens coach D.J. Smith pulled starter Marcus Hogberg in favor of veteran Craig Anderson. Anderson stopped all 14 Leafs shots and allowed Ottawa to climb back to within one on goals from Connor Brown and Cody Goloubef, but Campbell made some key saves down the stretch prior to Marner’s empty net insurance goal late in regulation.
“(Campbell) played a good game for us today. I thought our team played a good hockey game. I thought we had a really good second period, (Ottawa pulled) the goaltender, it changes momentum a little bit and I didn't like how we responded for that final segment in the second period.” Head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game. “I liked a lot about our third period. Maybe three or four of our best chances of the game come in the third period there, we could have really blown the game open, but their goalie made a bunch of saves and let them hang around, so it made it interesting. Luckily, we got the bounce to go our way on the empty net, which I think we earned that bounce through our play with it.”
The win was Toronto’s first in regulation in over two weeks and moved them four points ahead of the Florida Panthers, who lost their sixth in the last seven games to Edmonton at home. It also helped the Leafs close the gap in the race for a wild card spot, who now have 70 points, one behind Philadelphia (who lost to Tampa Bay) and Columbus.
The Leafs now must follow up their win on Saturday with another good effort in the second of back-to-back games with Frederik Andersen getting the start against the Buffalo Sabres at Key Bank Center on Sunday.
The Sabres have been underwhelming since going 9-3-2 in October and trail Toronto by 10 points for third place in the Atlantic Division, but traditionally have their way in Buffalo in spite of the arena being heavily stacked with Leafs fans.
With Pontus Aberg and Michael Hutchinson sent to the AHL on Friday, the Leafs played against Ottawa with 21 players on their roster. Agent Daniel Milstein’s Twitter account indicated on Saturday that Toronto would be calling up his client Egor Korshkov from the Toronto Marlies and it is possible that the big Russian winger will make his NHL debut against the Sabres.
Korshkov has 21 points (14 goals, 7 assists) in 35 games for the AHL Toronto Marlies, and has goals in three straight games, including an overtime winner in a 7-6 comeback victory over Belleville on Saturday.
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported on HNIC’s Saturday Headlines that the Leafs and defenseman Jake Muzzin are close on a four-year contract extension. Speculation has indicated that the new deal would be in the $5 to 5.5 Million range, but the announcement of the new deal may be on hold until after March 1, when the ceiling for money allocated towards next season's salary cap goes up by 10%.
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