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Matthews’ hat trick, Marner’s winner leads Leafs

TORONTO – The Maple Leafs feel like a game’s never out of reach.

With the offensive firepower hopping over the boards shift after shift, it’s easy to see why.

They would also prefer not having to rely on late heroics to get the job done.

Auston Matthews registered his third hat trick of the season to give him an NHL-leading 43 goals and Mitch Marner scored the winner Tuesday as the Leafs picked up a 6-4 victory over the Seattle Kraken despite blowing another lead.

“We’re never down and out,” Marner said. “That’s the belief in our team, belief in our locker room and on the bench.

“We just get over it and make sure we’re ready for the next shift or next opportunity.”

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Toronto, which surrendered a 3-1 lead to Seattle, was up 3-0 following the first period of Monday’s 5-4 road victory over Columbus before the Blue Jackets tied things up. That came on the heels of Saturday’s 6-4 home loss to the Vancouver Canucks where the Leafs held a 4-3 edge through 40 minutes.

“We’d really just like to be more consistent,” Matthews said. “Definitely some things for us to clean up.”

William Nylander and John Tavares added a goal and an assist each for Toronto (37-16-4), which got 26 saves from Jack Campbell. T.J. Brodie and Michael Bunting both chipped in with two assists. Marner, who also had an assist, has a point streak that now stands at eight games.

“It’s no secret what we have on our bench, right?” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We have weapons that if the game’s within striking distance … we have difference-makers. That gives us reason for belief.

“We also believe we can go out and establish our game early in games and gain control, which we have done a lot this season.”

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Just not so much recently.

“We don’t want to be giving up leads like that,” said Bunting, who has found a home on Toronto’s top line with Matthews and Marner. “But we have faith in one another, and we have the offensive power through all four lines to come to come back.”

Colin Blackwell, with a goal and an assist, Carson Soucy, Alex Wennberg and Jaden Schwartz replied for Seattle (17-37-5). Philipp Grubauer stopped 25 shots for the expansion Kraken, who fell to 1-9-1 over their last 11.

“We have to be real honest without ourselves,” Seattle head coach Dave Hakstol said. “This team can force you into some tough situations, but we weren’t hard enough to play against in a lot of areas.”

Seattle scored twice in the second to tie the game 3-3 before Schwartz tipped his seventh past Campbell at 5:57 of the third as Toronto allowed four goals or more for the eighth time in 10 games.

The Leafs responded at 9:03 when Matthews took a pass from Bunting, who was robbed by Grubauer moments earlier, to score his second of the night and 42nd of the campaign.

“Machine,” Campbell said of Toronto’s No. 1 centre as he continues his pursuit of 50 goals. “He’s amazing. He works so hard, he’s such a great teammate to every single guy, every single day.

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“Just a tremendous role model.”

Toronto then went on the power play where Marner delayed at the top of the slot after the ensuing Tavares faceoff win and fired his 22nd five-hole on Grubauer just 40 seconds later to send Scotiabank Arena into a frenzy.

“Saw a lot of people in my way,” said Marner, who has six goals and 11 assists during his point streak. “Didn’t really get a whole lot on it, but luckily enough it got through.”

Matthews then finished things off with the sixth hat trick of his career into an empty net to seal another imperfect Toronto win.

“We’re looking to plug as many of these holes as we can,” Keefe said. “But I like the fact that our team, once again in that situation, just calmly gathered itself and won a hockey game.”

Playing their third of four games in six nights, the Leafs opened the scoring at 3:18 of the first when Matthews scored his 41st as Toronto’s top-ranked power play connected for just the second time in 10 games.

The Kraken equalized at 5:21 when Soucy deposited his seventh upstairs on Campbell, but the Leafs replied at 9:55 when Tavares scored his 19th.

Campbell, who entered with an ugly .865 save percentage in 12 appearances since Jan. 15 after putting up a .935 mark through his first 27 games to earn an all-star nod, made a nice stop in the slot on Blackwell later in the period to elicit some of the familiar “Souuuup” chants from fans at Scotiabank Arena.

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“Calm, collected,” Marner said of the goaltender’s performance. “With swagger, and it’s great to see.”

The home side made it 3-1 on another man advantage at 5:14 of the second when Nylander fired his 22nd through Grubauer’s five-hole against Seattle’s 28th-ranked penalty kill.

The Kraken got back to within one at 9:20 when Wennberg finished off a 2-on-1 for his seventh.

And the visitors evened things up just 2:29 later when Nylander turned the puck over at the offensive blue line on a Toronto power play. Seattle raced the other way on a 3-on-1, with Blackwell finishing off a Yanni Gourde pass for his eighth.

“Tough game to play for Jack,” Keefe said. “We made it tough on him.”

The Kraken then nearly went ahead on a man advantage of their own later in the period, but Campbell got enough of Jared McCann’s shot to see it deflect off the post.

Seattle would eventually nudge in front in the third before Toronto’s talent pushed back.

“We always believe in ourselves,” Bunting said. “No matter what the score is, we believe that we can come back.”

Notes: Leafs winger Wayne Simmonds was honoured before puck drop for playing in the 1,000th regular-season game of his career Saturday. … Toronto winger Ondrej Kase (upper-body injury) returned to the lineup after missing four straight contests. … McCann signed a five-year, US$25-million contract extension Tuesday. … Hakstol was a Toronto assistant the last two seasons.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2022.

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