The Toronto Maple Leafs will be going for a two-game sweep of the host Winnipeg Jets Saturday night, a result that would solidify their advantage atop the North Division.
The Maple Leafs (29-13-5, 63 points) struck early in a 5-3 victory over the Jets (27-16-3, 57 points) Thursday night at Winnipeg.
The victory stopped Toronto’s five-game losing streak and bumped the margin for the Maple Leafs over the second-place Jets to six points. The Jets have one game in hand.
Auston Matthews scored his league-leading 34th goal at 27 seconds of the first period Thursday and Wayne Simmonds scored his seventh at 1:18. Toronto made the early statement hold up in the victory, although it wasn’t so simple.
By 10:26 of the first period, Mark Scheifele and Andrew Copp had scored to tie it, but Jason Spezza put the Maple Leafs ahead to stay less than two minutes later.
After allowing three goals on six shots, Connor Hellebuyck was replaced in the Winnipeg goal by Laurent Brossoit.
“I didn’t like the first two (goals),” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “I didn’t think the third one was a whole lot better for him and I was looking to change momentum.”
The Jets have lost two consecutive games in regulation for only the second time this season.
“Certainly we weren’t better than they were, but I don’t know how much better they were than us,” Maurice said. “It was 2-2 early enough in that game.”
The Jets lost Adam Lowry late in the first period when he took a shoulder to the head from Toronto’s Alex Galchenyuk. Lowry played one more shift and did not return.
Jets right winger Blake Wheeler returned after missing six games with a concussion and was reunited with Scheifele and Kyle Connor. Scheifele had a goal and an assist, Connor scored a goal and Wheeler had an assist.
“It was good, felt good,” Wheeler said. “Obviously, we have a lot of chemistry there between the three of us. Something to build on.”
The Maple Leafs were pleased with the debut of left winger Nick Foligno, who had an assist after he was obtained in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Nick in the lineup put some fire in our belly and we were ready to go,” said Maple Leafs goaltender JackCampbell, who ended a personal three-game losing streak with 34 saves.”(The five losses) were definitely weighing on us. We have a high standard in our dressing room and safe to say it wasn’t acceptable. But you do go through highs and lows and have to manage it. This will give us a ton of confidence going into (Saturday).”
With Zach Hyman (sprained MCL) out for at least two weeks, Foligno was put on a line with Matthews (one goal, two assists) and Mitchell Marner (two goals, one assist). Foligno’s assist came on Marner’s empty-net clincher late in the game.
“I liked it a lot, especially as the game wore on and we’re in control of the game on the scoreboard and protected a lead,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of the newly-formed line. “(Foligno) is just a very smart, smart player. Does a lot of little things really well that help you win games.”
Said Marner: “He did a great job hunting the puck. Down low, he was opening up a lot of space for me and (Matthews).”
–Field Level Media