It would be an understatement to call it a quick start to the latest edition of the Jets and the Leafs.
Toronto scored twice in the first 1:18 en route to a 5-3 win over the Jets on Thursday night.
After the Jets battled back to tie it at two, the Leafs quickly went ahead and never surrendered the lead.
“We hadn’t played a game in four days,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler, who made his return to the lineup after missing six games with a concussion. “It’s tough to come out and pick right up where we left off. It took us a period to get into it, thought the back half we played a really good game, but fortunately just a little too out of reach for us.”
The Leafs (29-13-5) are now six points ahead of the Jets (27-16-3) for first place in the North Division.
“We certainly weren’t better than they were, but I don’t know how much better they were than us,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “I just think that we can play better than what we did.”
The game’s first five goals came during a 12-minute span in the opening period.
It took all of 27 seconds for the Maple Leafs to open the scoring. A Mitch Marner stretch pass found the stick of Auston Matthews and the Leafs’ star centre wristed one past the blocker side of Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. The goal moved Matthews’ league-leading total to 34 on the season.
The Leafs doubled the early lead 51 seconds later. A Wayne Simmonds’ backhander slipped by Hellebuyck, as Toronto scored on the game’s first two shots on net.
Winnipeg would find an answer to get in on the early flurry of offence. Mark Scheifele got the Jets within one only two minutes after Simmonds’ goal. Mason Appleton forced a turnover from Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin and Andrew Copp found Scheifele for a quick one-timer from the top of the crease to beat goalie Jack Campbell.
The duo of Copp and Appleton would come together again to even the score midway through the first. Appleton’s cross-crease pass just got past Campbell and Copp found the empty net to extend his career-high goal total to 15.
That tie would be short-lived. A slap shot by veteran Leafs forward Joe Thornton was re-directed by Jason Spezza and behind Hellebuyck as Toronto regained their lead.
By the 8:01 mark of the first period, the score read 3-2 for Toronto, and Hellebuyck was replaced in the Jets goal by Laurent Brossoit. Winnipeg’s starter gave up three goals on six Leafs shots.
The high-scoring first period would end there, as neither team would find the net again until midway through the second. Marner one-timed an Auston Matthews pass over the shoulder of Brossoit, as Toronto regained their two-goal lead.
Kyle Connor would get the Jets back within one before the end of 40 minutes. Wheeler dug out the puck from the corner to find Connor for his team-leading 22nd goal. .
But the Jets weren’t able to pull even for the second time in the contest. Marner sealed it with his second of the night on the Jets empty net with five seconds left on the clock. Nick Foligno picked up an assist on the goal for his first point in his first game as a Leaf. He was acquired by Toronto ahead of the trade deadline in a trade with Columbus.
Campbell stopped 34 of 37 shots for the win, ending a three-game losing streak. Laurent Brossoit made 21 saves on 22 shots but will be credited with the loss after replacing Hellebuyck in the first period.
The Jets will look to bounce back in a rematch with Toronto on Saturday. You can listen to the game live on 680 CJOB with Kelly Moore, Paul Edmonds and Jamie Thomas with the pregame show starting at 4 p.m. and puck drop just after 6 p.m.
LOWRY LEAVES EARLY
The Jets played the bulk of the contest without the services of two-way centre Adam Lowry.
He left the game after taking a hit from Toronto forward Alex Galchenyuk in the first period. Maurice had no update on Lowry’s condition following the game.
The Jets captain called it a questionable hit.
“It looked late and high,” said Wheeler. “(Lowry) is six inches taller than (Galchenyuk) so you got to get pretty high to hit him. You don’t see Lows go down very often like that, and hopefully he’s doing alright.”
Lowry played only 4:16 in the game. He has 8 goals and 12 assists this season.