TORONTO — Auston Matthews extended his career-best goal streak to eight games with the winner midway through the third period before Alexander Kerfoot added some insurance just 11 seconds later as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 on Monday.
Morgan Rielly provided the rest of the offence for Toronto (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen made 31 saves as the Leafs woke from their two-period slumber to secure a three-game sweep of the spiralling Canucks. Mitch Marner added an assist to extend his point streak to eight games. Matthews’ point streak, meanwhile, now stands at 10 contests.
Elias Pettersson replied for Vancouver (6-10-0), which lost a fifth straight game in regulation to close out a miserable 1-5-0 road trip. Braden Holtby stopped 16 shots for the Canucks, who put in by far their best performance of the last week after losing the first two at Scotiabank Arena by a combined 12-4 scoreline, but still came up snake eyes.
The teams play six more times in the NHL’s abbreviated season, with the next meetings set for March 4 and 6 in Vancouver.
Coming off Thursday’s 7-3 victory and Saturday’s 5-1 triumph, the Leafs looked like a shadow of their high-flying selves until Matthews scored his 11th goal of the campaign at 9:22 of the third period to snap a 1-1 tie. After winning an offensive zone faceoff, Toronto’s star centre took a pass from Marner in the slot and ripped a shot five-hole on Holtby.
Kerfoot, who was partially at fault on Vancouver’s goal, then took a pass from Ilya Mikheyev after he stole the puck from Quinn Hughes behind the Canucks’ net for his second just 11 seconds later.
Toronto is now 7-0-1 over its last eight to sit atop both the NHL and North Division standings.
The Leafs were minus gritty winger Wayne Simmonds, who suffered a broken wrist in the third period of Saturday’s 5-1 victory. The 32-year-old, who inked a deal with his hometown team in free agency, was held off the scoresheet in his first half-dozen appearances, but had five goals in his last six games — including two Saturday before the injury.
Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe elected to go with 11 forwards and seven defencemen, which meant sophomore blue-liner Rasmus Sandin saw his first game action in nearly 11 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Canucks announced before puck drop forward Tyler Motte has been placed on injured reserve, while defenceman Olli Juolevi was recalled from the taxi squad and inserted into the lineup along with winger Jake Virtanen.
Holtby, who played consecutive games for the first time since signing with Vancouver in free agency, only faced seven shots through two periods against the sleepy Leafs, but had to be sharp early in the third, flailing his glove at a Rielly shot from the slot as Toronto showed a bit of life.
Coming off the best showing by a Canadian team during last season’s playoffs inside the Edmonton bubble that saw them reach the second round for the first time since 2011, the Canucks then killed off an Antoine Roussel penalty against the NHL’s best power play later in the period before Matthews and Kerfoot provided the winning margin.
J.T. Miller hit the post for Vancouver on a late power play, but that’s as close the visitors would come.
After a timid opening for both teams, the Leafs grabbed a 1-0 lead at 6:38 of the first following a Vancouver breakdown in the defensive zone. The sequence culminated with Canucks defenceman Nate Schmidt, who was in a battle with Zach Hyman in front, blindly kicking the puck right into an onrushing Rielly’s path for him to fire his second shortside on Holtby.
The bad news continued for the visitors when rookie winger Nils Hoglander was left bloodied after taking a puck to the face off the stick of teammate Jamie Benn.
Despite trailing on the scoreboard, Vancouver played by far its best period of the three-game set to that point, and came close to tying it up with Andersen stretched to rob Justin Bailey on a 2-on-1 with Tanner Pearson.
Holtby then made a big save on Rielly late in the period to keep his team only down by one as the Canucks took a 13-4 edge in shots to the locker rooms.
Playing a league-leading 16th contest in 27 days since the start of the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, Vancouver eventually got the equalizer on a power play at 9:59 of the second when Kerfoot couldn’t get the puck out of his zone. Hughes then found Pettersson, who had time and space to whip his fifth past Andersen.
Pettersson now has four goals and five assists in his last eight game after registering his two points in his first eight contests to open the campaign.
The Canucks carried play against the comatose Leafs, with Hoglander, who returned after the first intermission, coming close on a rebound chance before Pettersson’s breakthrough as Vancouver led 27-7 on the shot clock through 40 minutes.
Notes: Sandin picked up an assist. … The Leafs visit the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday for the first of two meetings this week before the teams play again Saturday at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday. … The Canucks open a four-game set against the Calgary Flames — including three at Rogers Arena — beginning Thursday.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press