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Maple Leafs refuse to throw in towel against Devils, end road trip on high note



NEWARK — They’re a little weary and a bit dinged up, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are coming home happy.

For a good portion of Tuesday night, it seemed like Toronto would finish its five-game road trip with a loss to the high-flying New Jersey Devils. But Michael Bunting and Auston Matthews scored late goals less than two minutes apart, as the Leafs snatched a 4-3 victory at the Prudential Center.

What they lacked in pretty, Toronto made up for with persistence, refusing to throw in the towel despite having visited three time zones in the past week and playing without two-thirds of its usual second line.

“Just perseverance and never giving up,” said Matthews, whose power-play marker with 2:53 to go in the third was the difference. “Last game of a pretty long road trip and one of those games you just kind of grind out, and that’s what we did.”

‘You guys must be tired too, no?’: Matthews happy to wrap up lengthy road trip

All that grinding was done with Ryan O’Reilly and John Tavares — typically the centre and left winger on the second line — not in the lineup, as O’Reilly had surgery on his broken finger earlier in the day and the team said it was just being extremely cautious keeping Tavares on the sidelines as the captain just didn’t quite feel like himself.

That left Toronto with a second line featuring William Nylander and Calle Jarnkrok flanked by one of the recent trade acquisitions, Sam Lafferty. Sure enough, that trio opened the scoring in the second period after Toronto had been outshot 15-4 by Jersey in the first.

The scoring play started when Lafferty blew into the Devils zone, forcing the defence to back off a bit. That created a nice seam for him to drop a pass to Nylander, who in turn used his backhand to dish a nifty feed over to Jarnkrok. By the time the puck got to him at the side of the net, all Jarnkrok had to do was shovel it into an empty cage.

Nylander plays perfect backhand to set up Jarnkrok for opening goal vs. Devils

Asked if he was surprised his fellow Swede was able to thread the needle through three Devils, Jarnkrok referenced the passer’s reputation. “Well, I mean, it’s ‘Willie Styles,’” he said with a grin. “If anyone can do it, it’s him.”

Nylander may have been responsible for the juicy apple, but Lafferty’s contributions — on that play and others — caught the attention of Sheldon Keefe, the former’s coach now for all four games.

“I thought Lafferty really came alive in the second period, really started to skate through the neutral zone with the puck,” Keefe said. “I thought that really got them on their heels a few times. Obviously, a big play on the goal and a good play by (Nylander and Jarnkrok) to get to the net. That’s obviously an important goal for us. But like I said, I really saw signs of what Lafferty is capable of in terms of putting the other team on their heels with his speed. He’s done that at different times in the earlier games with us, but it was more off the puck in getting up the ice and applying pressure. Today, it was with the puck and carrying it through the neutral zone, which is probably a byproduct of playing at center.”

Lafferty may have helped keep the Devils honest at times, but the opening 20 minutes were all New Jersey, and the sole reason Toronto didn’t find itself down a goal or two was the stellar play of Ilya Samsonov.

The big saves started right out of the gate, when the Leafs stopper made two huge saves in quick succession. When Jesper Bratt put a 2-on-1 pass on a tee for Jack Hughes, Samsonov flashed his right pad across the crease and denied Hughes’ one-timer. Moments later, Bratt was feeding Timo Meier at the other side of the net and Samsonov again thwarted a one-timer. Later in the frame, Miles Wood drove wide with a head of steam, barrelled across the top of the crease and tried to slip a backhander past Samsonov, and the Russian was having none of it.

‘Great effort by him’: Keefe credits Samsonov for keeping Maple Leafs in game early

Samsonov’s play allowed the Leafs to gather themselves, and they returned to the ice a much better team after the intermission. “I thought we came out really hard in the second and obviously got our game back,” Matthews said. “They’re a really good team over there. You’ve got to tip your hat. It was close all the way through. We just found a way.”

For a minute, it seemed as though Toronto’s path to victory might be by flipping the script from its last game, when the Buds allowed two third-period shorthanded goals to the Vancouver Canucks in a 4-1 loss on Saturday. This time out, it was Mitch Marner scoring an absolute gem of a shortie 4:57 into the third, picking Meier’s pocket before juking every which way on goalie Vitek Vanecek and sliding the puck home.

The good vibes were short-lived, though, as Ondrej Palat pulled Jersey back even with three seconds left on the same Nylander slashing penalty. When Erik Haula redirected a bit of a weird one past Samsonov about three minutes later for his second of the game, it seemed like perhaps it just wasn’t the Leafs’ night.

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But the Blue and White refused to go out like that.

“I just loved how our guys stayed with it,” Keefe said.

Bunting capped a brilliant sequence that started when Justin Holl sprung David Kampf with a stretch pass into the Devils zone. Kampf sucked the Jersey defenders his way, then slid a beautiful backhand pass to Bunting as he streaked toward the net for his first tally in six games.

Bunting — recently moved off the top line by Keefe — factored into the game-winner, too, as he lifted his skate to ensure a pass from Nylander to the slot went through him and onto the stick of big No. 34.

Matthews bangs home trademark goal to put Maple Leafs on top late

“I heard him calling for it,” Bunting said. “I heard it was him and clearly he was wide open, so I didn’t want to get in the way of that. And he made that count.”

He sure did. The marker gave Toronto a lead it didn’t relinquish and capped a journey Matthews said felt like a month away from home.

“It’s a great way to end our road trip and come out of it with a winning record” of 3-2-0, Matthew said. “You get to go back home now and have a couple of days to recoup, re-energize and get going again.”


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Maple Leafs clinch playoff berth with Panthers loss to Senators



The Toronto Maple Leafs clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday.

The Maple Leafs (44-20-9), who clinched when the Florida Panthers lost 5-2 to the Ottawa Senators, are second in the Atlantic Division, 22 points behind the Boston Bruins and seven ahead of the third-place Tampa Bay Lightning.

It’s the seventh straight season Toronto has clinched a playoff berth. It hasn’t won a postseason series since 2004.

The Maple Leafs are led by forwards Mitchell Marner (94 points), William Nylander (81), Auston Matthews (77), and John Tavares (75). Ilya Samsonov is 24-9-3 with a 2.46 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and three shutouts in 36 games (35 starts). Matt Murray is 14-8-2 with a 2.97 GAA, .905 save percentage and one shutout in 25 games.


Toronto made several moves prior to the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline on March 3, acquiring forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 17, defenseman Jake McCabe and forward Sam Lafferty from the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 27, defenseman Erik Gustafsson from the Washington Capitals on Feb. 28 and defenseman Luke Schenn from the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 28.

O’Reilly is expected back before the playoffs begin April 17. He hasn’t played since getting hit in the hand by Matthews’ shot in the second period of a 4-1 loss at the Vancouver Canucks on March 4 and was projected to be out four weeks.

The Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup 11 times, once each as the Toronto Arenas (1917-18) and the Toronto St. Patricks (1921-22). They are without an NHL championship since 1967.


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Canadian Bianca Andreescu retires from Miami Open match after suffering injury



Canadian Bianca Andreescu suffered an apparent leg injury during the second set of her match against Ekaterina Alexandrova at the Miami Open on Monday.

Andreescu was injured in the third game of the second set of the Round of 16 match while trying to run down a ball in the back court.  She remained down on the court, before receiving medical attention and leaving the court in a wheelchair.

Alexandrova won the first set of the match 7-6, Andreescu was up 2-0 in the second set when she retired from the match due to the injury.

The match was delayed for an hour by rain in the middle of the opening set.


The 22-year-old Canadian was playing well at the Miami tournament, entering play on Monday with victories over Emma Raducanu, No. 7 Maria Sakkari and Sofia Kenin earlier in the competition.


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Quick Reaction: Wizards 104, Raptors 114



O. Anunoby37 MIN, 29 PTS, 8 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 11-21 FG, 4-10 3FG, 3-4 FT, 3 BLK, 1 TO, 18 +/-

From the opening tip OG was a force offensively and continued to flash the self creation signs that everyone wants to see, he had a career high 18 in the first quarter and hit a lot of tough jumpers off the bounce, as well as spaced the floor with catch and shoot triples.

P. Siakam34 MIN, 19 PTS, 11 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 7-17 FG, 1-3 3FG, 4-4 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -3 +/-

Pretty poor game from Pascal by his standards, a lot of shots seemed forced and he couldn’t finish through contact, very well, his playmaking also was muted because he seemed to be hunting his own shot.

J. Poeltl26 MIN, 12 PTS, 12 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 6-9 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 7 +/-

Jakob’s floaters and push shots worked wonderfully tonight and he did a great job not rushing it like he does most games, offensive rebounding was also key as well, Jakob had 6 in this game which led to countless second chance points.

S. Barnes32 MIN, 13 PTS, 5 REB, 6 AST, 3 STL, 5-14 FG, 0-2 3FG, 3-3 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 10 +/-


Solid game in his first game back from injury, hit some tough looks in the paint, passing looked good tonight as well, efficiency was a bit off but we can chalk that up to being rusty.

F. VanVleet36 MIN, 28 PTS, 4 REB, 7 AST, 3 STL, 10-21 FG, 5-9 3FG, 3-3 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 11 +/-

Offensive masterclass from Fred VanVleet, he was zooming all over the floor and he was really burning Washington with his outside shooting, but his playmaking shined really bright tonight as well.

W. Barton04 MIN, 2 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-

Left the game early with an injury.

C. Boucher22 MIN, 6 PTS, 7 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 3-5 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 10 +/-

Boucher was battling on the class yet again and often gave Toronto an extra look tonight, he also was solid as a rim protector as well.

J. Dowtin Jr.19 MIN, 3 PTS, 2 REB, 4 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 1-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 14 +/-

Didn’t add a whole lot offensively but he was harassing guys on ball as a defender, and moving the rock well as well, would like to see Dowtin look for his own a bit more often

C. Koloko15 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 3 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 7 +/-

Koloko entered the game by recording a steal and then a block on back to back possessions, and then he continued to play solid defense in drop coverage, really strong game for the rook.

M. Flynn07 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-3 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -10 +/-

Didn’t take advantage of his looks on the floor tonight.

P. Achiuwa06 MIN, 2 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -10 +/-

Another rough night for Precious as he tries to regain his footing, just couldn’t find it defensively, ran the floor in transition just fine during limited time.

Nick Nurse

Although Toronto was healthier, Nurse didn’t force anyone into minutes that were going to damage the team.

Things We Saw

  1. OG Anunoby flashed creation skills once again, in the face up game he burned Washington many times and he even hit a pull up three.
  2. Christian Koloko played some pretty nice defense, his technique in drop was really good tonight.

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