Gardiner scores OT winner as Matthews’ Leafs prevail over Laine’s Jets

Matthews' Leafs prevail in OT over Laine's Jets

TORONTO — The storybook ending was there again for Patrik Laine.

Auston Matthews was in the penalty box for hooking with the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs deadlocked in overtime. But instead of Laine scoring his third goal of the evening for the OT winner — as he did in the first meeting of the first two picks of the 2016 draft four months earlier — it was the Matthews-led Leafs who prevailed Tuesday night.

Matthews picked up three assists, including the set-up of Jake Gardiner’s overtime winner as the Leafs jumped back into the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division with a 5-4 win. Laine scored twice in defeat, becoming the first rookie in franchise history (which includes the Atlanta Thrashers and not the former Winnipeg Jets) to score 30 goals.

“It’s always nice when both teams are scoring,” Laine said afterward. “When I’m scoring it’s always a lot of fun.”

His team got a much-needed point as it jockeys for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, and now heads for the five-day bye week.

Laine stepped onto centre-stage early on Tuesday night.

The 18-year-old evened the score at one shortly after Leo Komarov opened the scoring for Toronto, whistling a one-time pass from Mark Scheifele almost instantaneously into the back of the net for goal No. 29 this season. Leafs defenceman Nikita Zaitsev lingered close on the play, but not close enough to prevent Laine’s rapid release.

“It seems like he shoots it so quick and he doesn’t need a lot of space to get it off,” said Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen, who struggled in yielding four goals on 20 shots. “It came pretty quick the first one, I got a little piece, but obviously not enough.”

Bryan Little’s 17th goal in 40 games this season gave the Jets a 2-1 lead midway through the first, Nazem Kadri tying it at the outset of a hectic final five minutes of the second frame. Kadri took a pass from linemate Josh Leivo in the slot, quickly slid the puck from forehand to backhand and just got a shot off for his 26th goal this year, avoiding Connor Hellebuyck’s poke-check.

Nikolaj Ehlers gave the Jets the lead back less than two minutes later, deflecting a Josh Morrissey point shot for his 20th goal this year.

Komarov then evened it back up at three with 32 seconds left in the middle frame, his second goal of the night and 10th this year. William Nylander drove the action, wheeling around the Jets zone before dishing to Komarov from a spot in the right face-off circle.

That wasn’t it though.

Kadri delivered a punishing hit on Winnipeg defenceman Ben Chiarot with 10 seconds to go, which eventually elicited the attention of Dustin Byfuglien. While the Jets defender attempted to square things with Kadri after the hit — Byfuglien and Matt Martin would eventually trade blows — Scheifele found Laine in the high slot, the Finnish winger scoring his second of the game and 30th this season.

He’s the first 18-year-old in the NHL to hit the mark since Jeff Skinner notched 31 for the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2010-11 season. Laine is also the fifth rookie in the past 25 seasons to score 30 in 55 games or fewer, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“We went from end to end all the time,” Laine said. “When we scored they scored after that.”

The Leafs dominated the game generally, finishing at 70 per cent puck possession with 57 five-on-five shot attempts to just 25 for the Jets.

Matthews was actually the weakest link in that respect for Toronto (52 per cent) and relatively quiet despite the three-assist outburst, which matched a career-high.  

Catching a secondary assist on Komarov’s second goal of the night, Matthews picked up another helper on Nylander’s game-tying power-play goal three and a half minutes into the third. The 19-year-old Matthews fired a shot off the end boards, the puck caroming right to Nylander on the opposite side, his shot fired easily in the cage.

Nylander leads the Leafs and all NHL rookies with 19 power-play points this season. He trails only Laine (54), Matthews (52), and Mitch Marner (48) in the overall rookie scoring race with 42 points.

“I didn’t really have a lane, so I guess it’s kind of 50 per cent trying to score and 50 per cent really just trying to make whatever happen,” Matthews said. “A good bounce there and a big goal for us.”

After the Leafs missed on a power-play opportunity late in regulation it was Matthews who found himself in the box for hooking for the first minute and a half of overtime. Winnipeg didn’t get a shot with that advantage though and a short while later it was Matthews setting up the game winner.

He fed Gardiner in the neutral zone — mere seconds before Byfuglien drove him straight into the sideboards — and the 26-year-old ended the spirited tilt between two Canadian teams.

“We played a really solid game,” Matthews said. “For us, it’s definitely a big two points, good momentum for us to win it in overtime.”

Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press

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