TORONTO (AP) A loss would have knocked the Toronto Maple Leafs out of playoff position. Instead, they trounced the New York Islanders and set a season high for goals.
Auston Matthews scored twice, Frederik Andersen earned his 100th NHL win and the Maple Leafs routed the Islanders 7-1 on Tuesday night in a game with major postseason implications.
Toronto won for the third time in nine games and moved three points ahead of New York for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Maple Leafs trail Boston and Ottawa by one point for the final two automatic playoff spots in the Atlantic Division.
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”I think we came out and just played the right way – played fast, just like our slogan says,” said Matthews, referring to the ”Play Fast. Play Right” mantra plastered across the team’s dressing room walls. ”When we do the right things we’re definitely a tough team to play against.”
Surging up the standings since interim coach Doug Weight replaced Jack Capuano behind the bench, New York fell to 10-4-2 in its past 16 games.
”We had some really good opportunities to make it a hockey game,” Weight said. ”Credit to them. Andersen was really big in the net when he had to be in the first 30 (minutes). We just had some lapses. It’s humbling.”
Matthews increased his rookie total to 27 goals and Andersen stopped 33 shots. Seldom-used Josh Leivo had a career-high three points with one goal and two assists in just under 10 minutes of ice time for Toronto.
Nazem Kadri and William Nylander each had a goal and an assist. Tyler Bozak and Matt Hunwick also scored for the Maple Leafs.
Jason Chimera scored on a penalty shot for New York. Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube combined to give up seven goals on 41 shots.
”It wasn’t our sharpest game. There’s no question we didn’t play great, but we had some opportunities early,” Islanders captain John Tavares said. ”You obviously lick your wounds a little bit tonight, review how we can be better tomorrow, try to make some adjustments. We want to be a little sharper, be a little better, probably be a little bit grittier than we were tonight for our next game.”
After slow starts in their previous two games (both losses), the Maple Leafs decided to change up their routine and did not hold a morning skate Tuesday.
The switch spurred the desired result, as Toronto raced out to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey each hit the post early for New York, which won the first two meetings between the teams this season (including 6-5 in overtime against Andersen a week earlier).
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock credited Andersen for stabilizing things early amid some ”heavy” offensive zone pressure from the Islanders.
”I thought Freddy made some real good saves tonight and the better your goalie plays, the more you settle down and the more you get dialed in,” Babcock said.
A scuffling Andersen entered with an .893 save percentage in 16 starts since Jan. 1. He had been sitting on 99 wins for almost two weeks, his last victory coming on Feb. 4.
”I mean, it’s nice, but it’s more important the 26 we have as a team this year,” he said.
Matthews pushed Toronto’s lead back to three early in the third period, flipping a backhand rebound past Greiss on the power play. The rookie sensation added another goal a short while later, depositing Connor Brown’s feed from behind the net.
Matthews has four multigoal games this season.
”He’s an elite player and very determined with an elite, heavy shot,” Babcock said. ”He goes to the traffic areas and that’s where you score.”
NOTES: The 19-year-old Matthews leads all rookies in goals and is three behind Sidney Crosby for the overall NHL lead. He became the first Maple Leafs rookie since Daniel Marois in 1988-89 to reach 27 goals and is seven shy of equaling Wendel Clark’s franchise rookie record. … Kadri’s goal was his first in 10 games and 21st of the season, setting a career high. … The 23-year-old Leivo suited up for his fifth game this season and scored his first goal. He got a rare opportunity to play with rookie wing Nikita Soshnikov sidelined by injury. Babcock said Leivo earned another look on Wednesday night at Columbus – even with Soshnikov ready to return. … Nylander, a 20-year-old Swede, has 15 goals, tied with Mitch Marner for second among Maple Leafs rookies behind Matthews.
Islanders: Host the rival New York Rangers on Thursday night.
Maple Leafs: Head to Columbus on Wednesday to complete their 13th back-to-back set of the season. The club is 9-2-2 on the first night and 4-7-1 on the second.