Gardiner scores OT winner to lift Maple Leafs past Jets
TORONTO (AP) This time it was Auston Matthews’ turn to get the win in his second matchup with fellow rookie sensation Patrik Laine.
Matthews had three assists, including one on Jake Gardiner’s goal at 2:29 of overtime that lifted the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 5-4 victory over Laine and the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night.
On the winner, Matthews fed Gardiner in the neutral zone – mere seconds before the Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien drove him straight into the sideboards – and the 26-year-old moved Toronto back into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
”We played a really solid game,” Matthews said. ”For us, it’s definitely a big two points, good momentum for us to win it in overtime.”
Matthews also had an assist on William Nylander’s goal that tied it 4-4 about 3 1/2 minutes into the third period as he fired a shot off the end boards that caromed right to his teammate, who put it into the net.
”I didn’t really have a lane, so I guess it’s kind of 50 percent trying to score and 50 percent really just trying to make whatever happen,” Matthews said. ”A good bounce there and a big goal for us.”
Leo Komarov had two goals and Nazem Kadri also scored for the Maple Leafs. Frederik Andersen stopped 16 shots.
Laine, who completed a hat trick with the overtime winner in the teams’ first meeting back in October, scored twice to become the first rookie in franchise history to score 30 goals.
”It’s always nice when both teams are scoring,” said Laine, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft behind Matthews. ”When I’m scoring it’s always a lot of fun.”
Nikolaj Ehlers and Bryan Little also scored for the Jets. Mark Scheifele had two assists and Connor Hellebuyck finished with 32 saves.
Both teams were without key players – the Jets missing defenseman Jacob Trouba for the first game of a two-game suspension and Maple Leafs rookie Mitch Marner sidelined for the third straight game with a suspected shoulder injury.
The Leafs lost another player to injury in the first, with Connor Carrick exiting due to an upper-body ailment after only four shifts. He was hit hard in the Toronto zone by Mathieu Perrault.
A fast-paced second period saw the teams trade goals, beginning with Kadri’s 25th of the year. The 26-year-old took a pass from linemate Josh Leivo in the slot, quickly slid the puck from forehand to backhand and just got a shot off, avoiding Hellebuyck’s poke check to tie it 2-2.
Ehlers gave the Jets the lead back less than two minutes later, deflecting Josh Morrissey’s point shot for his 20th goal this year.
Komarov evened it back up at 3-3 with his second of the game on a late-period power play.
Kadri delivered a punishing hit on Winnipeg defenseman Ben Chiarot with 10 seconds to go, which eventually drew Byfuglien’s attention. While the Winnipeg defender attempted to square things with Kadri after the hit Scheifele found Laine in the high slot and the Finnish winger got No. 30.
”We went from end to end all the time,” Laine said. ”When we scored they scored after that.”
Komarov opened the scoring 1:02 into the game when his shot from just above the goal line in the left corner snuck between Hellebuyck’s pads.
Then, after miscommunication between Leafs in the defensive zone, Scheifele gained control of the puck along the wall and fired it to the weak side where Laine lay in wait. He took the pass and whistled it almost instantaneously into the back of the net.
”It seems like he shoots it so quick and he doesn’t need a lot of space to get it off,” Andersen said. ”It came pretty quick the first one, I got a little piece, but obviously not enough.”
Matthews had a chance to score a few minutes later, but was unable to stuff a rebound around Hellebuyck’s right pad. He later drew an offensive zone penalty on Byfuglien.
The Jets went in front 2-1 on the power play at about the midway point of the first. Andersen stopped the first shot, a big blast from the point by Byfuglien, but the rebound hung around the crease where it was pushed in by Little for his 17th.
Toronto was short-handed after Kadri took a tripping penalty in retaliation against Byfuglien, who delivered a hard hit in the Jets’ zone moments earlier.
Little almost scored again on the power play late in the first, but his goal with 5 seconds to go was waved off for a high stick.
NOTES: Laine became the first 18-year-old in the NHL to hit the 30-goal mark since Jeff Skinner had 31 for Carolina in 2010-11. Laine is also the fifth rookie in the past 25 seasons to score 30 in 55 games or fewer, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. … Nylander leads the Leafs and all NHL rookies with 19 power-play points this season. He trails only Laine (54), Matthews (52), and Marner (48) in the overall rookie scoring race with 42 points.
Jets: Host Minnesota on Feb. 28 after their bye week.
Maple Leafs: Host the New York Rangers on Thursday night.