Maple Leafs in thick of playoff hunt with win over Blue Jackets
Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri reacts to scoring a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third period at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, on March 22, 2017. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)
William Nylander and Leo Komarov each had a goal and an assist and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 on Wednesday night.
Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri also scored, and Frederik Andersen had 32 saves as Toronto stayed in the thick of the playoff hunt in the Atlantic Division. Nikita Zaitsev scored an empty-net goal after the Blue Jackets pulled their goalie for a sixth skater near the end.
David Savard and Brandon Saad scored for Columbus, which lost for the first time in the last five games. Backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo stopped 26 shots. The Blue Jackets stayed in third place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind leader Washington and one behind Pittsburgh. They play the Capitals in Washington on Thursday night.
The Blue Jackets fought back from a 2-0 first-period deficit to tie the game in the second, but were held scoreless in the final period, despite playing with a man advantage for nearly seven minutes because Toronto had failed to put a player in the box to serve a penalty.
Toronto struck first with 8:55 left in the opening period when the Blue Jackets’ Zach Werenski turned the puck over deep in the defensive zone. Nazem Kadr collected it and chipped to Komarov, who beat Korpisalo from the doorstep.
The Maple Leafs took a 2-0 lead less than two minutes later on a power play when 19-year-old rookie Matthews, in the right place at the right time for a rebound, tucked in his team-leading 33rd goal of the season.
Columbus closed it to 2-1 just 43 seconds into the second period. Savard buried a slap shot from the right dot off a sweet pass from Brandon Dubinsky from behind the goal line. The Blue Jackets tied it 6:58 into the period when Saad deflected in a Werenski shot from the left point.
Toronto answered 6:37 left in the period, making 3-2 on a goal by another of its sensational rookies. William Nylander, after being levelled by Savard and recovering, caught up with Tyler Bozak pass, found himself on a breakaway and wristed a shot in off the top bar.
A hard-hitting game was punctuated by Toronto’s Roman Polak, who unloaded a hit that plastered Oliver Bjorkstrand face first hit into the glass, earning the big defenceman a five-minute major penalty. Bjorkstrand crumpled to the ice and looked as if he may have been unconscious briefly before being helped off.
The Leafs failed to send a player to the box to serve the penalty so ended up playing a man down for close to seven minutes. But the Blue Jackets couldn’t capitalize.
Kadri swept in an insurance goal off a rebound with 4:14 left in the game, and Zaitsev had the empty-netter with 2:47 left.
NOTES: Nylander has three goals and six assists in a career-high nine-game point streak. … Columbus C Alexander Wennberg returned the lineup after missing Sunday’s game with a stiff neck. … Columbus signed forwards Markus Hannikainen and Lukas Sedlak, and D Scott Harrington to two-year contract extensions this week. All would have been restricted free agents this summer. … Blue Jackets F Scott Hartnell was a healthy scratch.
Toronto: Home against New Jersey on Thursday.
Columbus: At Washington on Thursday to finish the 17th of a league-high 19 back-to-backs.