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Leafs score twice in 20 seconds, down Stars 5-4

TORONTO – Evgenii Dadonov had just scored on a silky smooth penalty shot to pull the Dallas Stars even with under nine minutes remaining in regulation.

The night was going one of two ways from there for the Maple Leafs.

Toronto could become tentative having surrendered a lead despite dominating the third period. Or continue to push — not press — for the winner.

Three of the team’s all-stars and its captain rediscovering his offensive touch made sure the latter played out.

Mitch Marner and William Nylander scored 20 seconds apart on the heels of Dadonov’s equalizer as Toronto defeated Dallas 5-4 on Wednesday.

Marner buried his 22nd goal of the season off an Auston Matthews setup to snap a 3-3 tie just 32 seconds after the penalty shot with 8:55 left in regulation.

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“We just wanted to get back to work,” Marner said. “Our bench does a good job of staying in the moment, realizing there’s another opportunity to go out there and do something.

“But, same time, not forcing it. That was one of those moments.”

With Scotiabank Arena still buzzing, Nylander then took a pass from John Tavares and fired home his second of the evening and 25th of the campaign 20 seconds later.

“Huge response from Matty and Mitchy,” Nylander said. “We were able to follow that up.”

Matthews, with his NHL-leading 41st, and Tavares also scored and added two assists each for Toronto (26-15-8). Nylander had an assist for another three-point night.

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“Each game is gonna present its own challenges,” Matthews said. “There’s gonna be different momentum swings out there. We try to stay focused and present.”

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Ilya Samsonov made 27 saves for the Leafs, who connected three times on the power play after falling 3-2 to the New York Islanders on Monday coming out of the all-star break.

Jamie Benn and Wyatt Johnston had the other goals for Dallas (31-14-6). Scott Wedgewood made 26 stops with the Stars resting Jake Oettinger following Tuesday’s 2-1 victory in Buffalo.

Dadonov scored his 12th, and second of the night, on that penalty shot after getting bear-hugged by Leafs defenceman Mark Giordano on a breakaway.

“We made a mistake,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We were playing a great period to that point. Just continue with it. Stay with it.”

Johnston scored his 15th with 1:25 remaining in regulation to make it 5-4 after Nylander missed the empty net looking for his second NHL hat trick — and first since February 2017 — but Toronto held on.

Matthews, Marner, Nylander and defenceman Morgan Rielly were front and centre last week as the city hosted the league’s all-star festivities.

The Leafs-led team won the four-team, 3-on-3 mini tournament, with Matthews picking up MVP honours.

“It’s not too hard,” the sniper said when asked about the challenge of returning to a regular-season routine. “You’re pretty thankful that it’s back to what you’re accustomed to.”

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The Leafs, who beat the Stars 4-1 in Dallas on Oct. 26, opened the scoring at 6:34 of the first when Nylander blasted a one-timer after Radek Faska hit the post at the other end just over two minutes in.

Dallas, which fell to 7-2-1 over its last 10, connected on its second power-play opportunity when Benn scored his ninth at 14:52.

Dadonov pushed the visitors ahead 2:35 later when he cut into the middle off the rush.

Johnston then nearly made it 3-1 in the dying seconds, but Samsonov was bailed out by his left post for a second time in the period.

Tavares got the Leafs back even at 3:40 of the second on a power play when he snapped his 15th, and third in as many games after going a career-worst nine straight contests without scoring.

Matthews nearly scored short-handed later in the period, but eventually gave the home side a 3-2 lead at 12:37 on another power play when his attempted saucer pass went in off Stars defenceman Esa Lindell before that third-period drama.

“What a response,” Keefe said of a wild three-goal, 52-second stretch. “Auston takes charge of things out there and Mitch, a big-time goal.

“And then (Tavares) and that line follow it up.”

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BLOODIED MCCABE

Toronto defenceman Jake McCabe was left bloodied by a Mason Marchment hit in the second that went unpunished, but didn’t miss any action.

“I see a vulnerable player that’s targeted,” Keefe said. “I gotta think that’s the type of hit they do not want to see in the game. Guy’s bleeding everywhere, needs stitches. I’m sure they’re going to look at it.”

UP NEXT

Toronto visits Ottawa on Saturday, while Dallas is at Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2024.

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