Avalanche bury Leafs 5-3 with spirited comeback

TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs discovered why Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche are Stanley Cup contenders again.

Two years removed from the franchise’s latest championship, MacKinnon and his linemates gave the Maple Leafs difficulty, propelling the Avalanche to a 5-3 come-from-behind victory on Saturday.

Down three goals in the first period, MacKinnon scored the game-winner off the rush with 3:25 remaining.

His linemates Jonathan Drouin and Mikko Rantanen scored second-period markers to begin the comeback.

“A tough one,” Toronto defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “I thought there were good things at the start of the game. They took over the game. That’s the broad strokes of it. We got away from what we were doing.”

“They just seemed to have the puck more,” Toronto goalie Martin Jones added when asked about the Avalanche’s play in the second and third periods. “They generated some offence off their cycle.”

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The Maple Leafs lost for only the third time (16-2-1) this season when leading after 40 minutes.

Plenty of differences existed between the fourth-overall Avalanche (28-12-3) and the 11th-overall Maple Leafs (21-11-8).

Just ask Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe. He felt Auston Matthews and the home side’s best players didn’t match up against MacKinnon, his linemates, and defencemen Cale Makar and Devon Toews.

He also stated the Maple Leafs didn’t measure up to their opponents on special teams. The Avalanche only scored a power-play goal from Drouin. Still, it gained momentum off a goalless power play when Toronto native Andrew Cogliano knotted the game at 7:35 into the final period.

“It’s not the NHL, it’s another league,” Keefe said, describing the play of the MacKinnon line.

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“It starts with that first goal. It was a gift. We stopped playing.”

Despite the three-goal lead, Keefe didn’t like the Maple Leafs first period. The Toronto coach saw only one line going (Max Domi, Calle Jarnkrok, Pontus Holmberg).

Keefe replaced rookie Matthew Knies on the top line with William Nylander, Matthews, and Mitch Marner. But there was no spark found.

The Avalanche have a 9-1-1 run, while the loss before 19,298 at Scotiabank Arena makes it two straight defeats for Toronto.

Ross Colton added an empty netter with Jones on the bench. The visitors outshot the Maple Leafs 33-29.

After a power play that generated several chances, Colorado continued to beat the home team to loose pucks in Toronto’s end.

The hard work led to a goal in the high slot from Cogliano.

The Maple Leafs scored three times in the opening period. Domi floated in a long-range shot that fooled Avalanche goalie Alexandar Georgiev at 6:23.

Rielly dumped a puck at Colorado defender Toews and then stole the puck back for a breakaway backhand goal.

A loose puck squirted to Maple Leafs defenceman Timothy Liljegren for a 3-0 lead at 15:04.

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The visitors got on track in the second period with a power-play goal from Drouin, his 10th. Toronto is a dismal 24th in penalty-killing this season.

The Maple Leafs had only one power play and felt that Colorado defenceman Josh Manson had cross-checked Matthews in the third period. But there was no call.

“The referee told me he fell on his own into the boards,” Keefe said cynically.

Rantanen pushed Colorado to 3-2 at 13:13. Matthews threw the puck into the middle right to Avalanche defenceman Sam Girard. His shot deflected to Rantanen for his 22nd.

MacKinnon picked on an assist on the Drouin goal to extend his point streak to seven games. The Colorado captain entered the game second in league scoring, two points behind Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov.


With MacKinnon and Matthews already chosen to represent their teams at the 2024 NHL all-star game in Toronto in three weeks, the fans added three more Maple Leafs and Colorado defenceman Makar.

Nylander finished first in fan voting, followed by Makar in second, Marner (fifth) and Rielly (seventh).


Maple Leafs: Entertain the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

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Sharks: Travel to Montreal to play the Canadiens on Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2024.

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