Photo credit:James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Matthews nets 40th goal, Benoit scores first with Toronto as Maple Leafs beat the Jets 4-2
By Joseph Zita29 days ago
After a narrow 1-0 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs visited Winnipeg to close out the home-and-home series last night against the Jets, as they looked to head into the 2024 NHL All-Star break with another win in the books.
It was a different start to the period for the Maple Leafs compared to Wednesday night’s game when these two teams played in Toronto. The road team got out to an early 3-0 shot advantage, stringing together a couple of solid shifts, but couldn’t get anything past Connor Hellebuyck.
The Jets eventually got their feet moving and worked the puck in Toronto’s zone. On one of their first chances in the game, Winnipeg got in on the forecheck, pressured Morgan Rielly, who couldn’t retrieve the puck, and the Jets worked it to the point where Dylan Samberg fired a shot, beating Samsonov on his team’s first shot of the period, which came just over four minutes in.
Winnipeg would continue to generate chances on the net, thanks to more turnovers from the Toronto players, but Samsonov had the answers for all of them.
Up to this point in the game, the only line that looked the most dangerous for the Maple Leafs was the third line of Holmberg, Domi and Robertson. Toronto needed to get some other lines going.
In his first game back, the hometown kid brought his team even toward the end of the first period on a beautiful tip in front of the net. Before the goal, Ryan Reaves had a tremendous effort hounding the Jets defender skating back in his zone. His pressure forced Hellebuyck into turning the puck over, and Noah Gregor spun, fired the puck toward the net, and Reaves tipped home his second goal of the season.
Almost immediately after tying the game at one, Toronto thought they had taken the lead off a Tyler Bertuzzi goal, who returned to the lineup last night, but it was called off due to accidental goalie interference on William Nylander. Toronto challenged the call because the replay showed Dylan DeMelo shoving Nylander into Hellebuyck not once but twice. But upon further review, the situation room didn’t see it like that, wiping the goal off the board.
Toronto entered the first intermission tied with Winnipeg 1-1 and outshot them 8-7.
If you thought Toronto’s first period was decent, you probably thought their second period was even better. From the drop of the puck, Toronto controlled the majority of the play, looking to get ahead on the scoreboard after the earlier disallowed goal from Tyler Bertuzzi.
They peppered Connor Hellebuyck, shift after shift, but couldn’t find the back of the net. There were a couple of glorious looks from the top two lines, but whether it was puck luck going against them or just poor finishing ability, Toronto remained at just one goal.
After having a second goal disallowed in a little over a week, Bertuzzi was sprung on a 2-on-1 with William Nylander but couldn’t beat Hellebuyck. The puck became loose, and Nylander collected it, circling the net looking for the go-ahead goal. But with Hellebuyck down and out, the Jets fell back and defended the front of the net, preventing Nylander from scoring.
At this point in the game, the shot clock said 17-8 for Toronto, yet the scoreboard remained 1-1. There were too many grade-a looks from the road team that couldn’t be capitalized on, and the hope was that those wouldn’t come back to hurt the team.
In a game where Toronto could’ve had three or four goals, a blown icing call goes against the Maple Leafs, resulting in Nick Robertson taking a penalty, putting Winnipeg on their second power play. Toronto did a fine job at limiting the Jets’ chances, but with roughly five minutes left, a falling Timothy Liljegren from behind the goal line got his stick up high and took a high-sticking penalty.
Winnipeg got their third man advantage in the game, and luckily, Toronto’s penalty kill stood firm to keep them off the board despite a close chance from Josh Morrissey, who rang the farside post.
Toronto entered the second intermission tied with Winnipeg 1-1 and were outshooting them 22-19.
Both teams entered the final period of regulation tied, just like in the first half of the home-and-home in Toronto on Wednesday night.
In a game where Toronto had a case to be ahead on the scoreboard after the disallowed goal, they weren’t getting any help from the referees, while the Jets received three consecutive power plays. The Maple Leafs’ scoring chances only came at five-on-five and the penalty kill. But as expected, Winnipeg eventually took their first penalty to send Toronto’s power play on the ice.
What almost felt instantaneously, a Morgan Rielly point shot got redirected past Connor Hellebuyck from who other than John Tavares to put his team ahead by one early in the third period and end his slump offensively.
With the Maple Leafs ahead by one, both teams were trying to get the all-important next goal. Toronto could go up by two, or the Jets could even the score out, looking to complete the comeback. After the Tavares goal, there wasn’t another goal until the final five minutes of the game when Toronto returned to the power play for the second and third time.
With a rare 5-on-3 opportunity for the Maple Leafs, a goal here would give them a nice cushion with how late it was in the period. Again, similarly to the Tavares goal, what almost felt instantaneously, Auston Matthews one-timed his 40th goal of the season past Hellebuyck to give his club a two-goal lead.
That goal not only gave Matthews 40 on the year in game 46 and his team the multi-goal lead, but that was his 600th career point, making him the fastest player in franchise history to that achievement, passing his linemate Mitch Marner who just did it a couple of weeks back.
With Connor Hellebuyck on the bench and the Winnipeg Jets playing 6-on-5, looking for a goal to cut into the Toronto lead, Simon Benoit fired a shot from his end of the ice into the empty net for his first goal as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. That goal broke a lengthy drought for the defensive defenseman.
With the game all but over, Mason Appleton banged home the Jets’ second goal of the night after it took a bounce off Jake McCabe, cutting their deficit to two with just over 10 seconds left. After Winnipeg put the puck in the net, some pushing and shoving ensued between the two sides.
Who stood out:
Ilya Samsonov had another stellar performance, turning aside 24 shots, to improve to 3-1-0 since returning to the crease after a brief break from the NHL. Although the box score says he allowed two goals last night, it’s hard to fault him on Appleton’s late goal, given the unlucky bounce off his defender.
Auston Matthews can’t stop scoring. Entering the home-and-home against the Jets, Matthews was sitting at 38 goals, needing just two to reach the 40-goal mark before the All-Star break. As we all know, the 26-year-old scored number 39 in Toronto on Wednesday night and number 40 last night in just 46 games while reaching the 600-point milestone – the fastest in Maple Leafs’ history. He enters the break leading the league in goals and sits inside the top 12 in points among NHL skaters.
In his first game back in the lineup, Ryan Reaves had arguably one of, if not his best game as a Maple Leaf. In under 10 minutes, Reaves scored a goal, laid a couple of big hits along the boards, got into Nikolaj Ehlers’ face toward the end of the game when the Jets players started to get frustrated, and didn’t complicate things. He wasn’t skating circles around everyone, shooting the puck a bunch, and looking like an elite player, but the little things were noticeable, and he did a great job in his return.
Toronto’s special teams are what helped complete the home-and-home sweep. Not only did their power play get on the board, going 2/3, but the penalty kill came up huge last night, going 4/4, keeping the Jets off the scoresheet.
You can catch the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game after the 2024 NHL All-Star weekend on February 5th when they host the New York Islanders. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT.
Recent articles from Joseph Zita