TORONTO – The Maple Leafs hit the midseason mark of the season with another dramatic come-from-behind win, a six-game goal-scoring streak from Mitch Marner and a hat trick from Auston Matthews.
But as good as the 6-4 victory felt for the home side against the New Jersey Devils to extend their win streak to four games, there were a couple of distressing signs for Maple Leafs (28-10-3), who have an identical record they enjoyed at the 41-game point a year ago.
Maple Leafs starting goalie Jack Campbell was not sharp against the Devils at Scotiabank Arena. He was lifted after allowing three goals on nine shots at 9:10 in the first period. But also, the team in front of him has not looked sharp early in games only to turn on the offensive tap in the third period.
Forty-eight hours after overcoming a two-goal, third-period deficit in Detroit against the Red Wings to win 7-4, the Maple Leafs bounced back from a 4-2 disadvantage to defeat the Devils.
“Jack hasn’t played to the same level he established for himself,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “But neither has the team in front of him.
“That’s on us. That’s not nearly enough. We’ve got a guy who battled for us and has been the backbone of this team.”
Campbell’s play earned him a trip to the NHL all-star game in Las Vegas this weekend. But he has yielded 16 goals in his last nine-plus periods.
“Our start wasn’t very good,” said Matthews, who now has 28 goals in 38 games. “We weren’t ready from the start.
“Soup (Campbell) didn’t play bad. We just gave them some Grade-A chances.”
After two periods, the visitors held a 4-2 lead and hoped to give rookie netminder Akira Schmid his first career NHL win in his fourth start and fifth appearance. The 21-year-old Swiss goalie entered the game with a 0-3-0 record, and an abysmal .824 save percentage.
The Leafs outshot New Jersey 33-29. The Devils (15-24-5) have lost five in a row.
Toronto’s comeback began early in the third period when Jason Spezza converted a pass from Ilya Mikheyev from in close.
Marner tied the game with 6:31 remaining off a draw in the Devils end. Matthews lost the draw, but linemate Michael Bunting chased down the loose puck and fed it back to Matthews. He then found Marner in front for his sixth goal in a personal best six straight games.
“We just did what we do best in the third period,” Marner said.
The Devils had a power play late in regulation time, but Toronto’s Alex Kerfoot found Mikheyev on a brilliant two-on-one with 3:04 remaining. Matthews scored an empty netter.
“For us, we have to come ready to play physically,” Marner said.
“As a team, we know it’s a big deal.”
New Jersey was without its veteran head coach Lindy Ruff, who left the team to be with his family back in Warburg, Alta., after the passing of his 88-year-old father, Leeson.
The Devils took advantage of a slow start from the Maple Leafs to build a 2-0 lead by the 6:20 mark of the opening period.
Keefe called a timeout after New Jersey’s third goal to scold his players and lift Campbell in favour of backup Petr Mrazek.
This was the front end of a home-and-home set between the two teams that will see them play in New Jersey on Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2022.