Maple Leafs stay hot, thump Avalanche 8-3 for 15th victory in 17 games


TORONTO — Auston Matthews scored three times to register the fourth hat trick of his career as the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs thumped the Colorado Avalanche 8-3 on Wednesday night.

John Tavares had a goal and two assists for Toronto (17-6-1), while William Nylander scored and set up another. Jack Campbell made 28 saves.

Jason Spezza, Travis Dermott and Pierre Engvall had the other goals for the Leafs, who have won five straight games and are 15-2-0 over their last 17. Michael Bunting added three assists, while Mitch Marner and Alexander had two each.

Nazem Kari, with two, and Samuel Girard replied for Colorado (11-7-1). Jonas Johansson stopped 33 shots as the Avalanche lost for the second time in their last three contests after winning six in a row.

Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon, who added two assists, returned to the lineup after missing eight games with a lower-body injury, while Kadri suited up at Scotiabank Arena as a visitor for the second time since being traded to Colorado in July 2019.

The Avalanche announced shortly before the game No. 1 goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper-body injury) — announced as Wednesday’s starter by head coach Jared Bednar following the morning skate — was unavailable.

That meant University of Toronto netminder Jett Alexander dressed as Johansson’s emergency backup for warmups, but the 22-year-old from Bloomfield, Ont., remained in the locker-room area until third-stringer Justus Annunen arrived at Scotiabank Arena in time to start the second period on Colorado’s bench.

Coming off a four-game road trip that saw them sweep the New York Islanders and all three California teams, the Leafs went up 1-0 at 4:31 of the first period when Tavares delicately fed a pass ahead to Nylander, who ripped his 10th goal of the season past Johansson’s glove.

Toronto went up 2-0 at 7:57 when Spezza tapped home his fifth when the Colorado netminder could only get a piece of Nick Ritchie’s initial shot.

The Leafs went up by three at 14:24 when Matthews — minus his trademark moustache after shaving it off for charity — took a feed in front from Marner and went between the legs and back against the grain to roof his team-leading 11th goal, and fourth in as many games.

Toronto came close to making it 4-0 on a late power play, but Colorado killed that one off and then got on the board with 1.2 seconds left in the period when Girard blasted a one-timer past Campbell for his second.

The NHL’s second star in November after going 9-2-0 with a league-leading .959 save percentage, the Leafs goaltender made a number of big stops early in the second period as Colorado started to tilt the ice.

But the Avalanche finally broke through at 11:57 when Kadri — the league’s third star last month thanks to 21 points in 10 games — swept his eighth past Campbell.

The Leafs got that one back just 47 seconds later when Dermott’s one-timer went off a Colorado stick in front and beat Johansson upstairs for his first of the campaign.

Campbell then made terrific saves on Logan O’Connor and Alex Newhook in quick succession before Tavares slipped his own rebound through Johansson for his 11th to match Matthews and push Toronto’s lead back to three and 5-2.

But Matthews retook top spot on the Leafs’ stats page when he collected a pass from Marner in tight before outwaiting Johansson for his 12th just 46 seconds into third.

And the Leafs sniper and reigning Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy winner then fired his third of the night at 8:41 on a shot that beat the Colorado netminder shortside to continue the onslaught.

Engvall added his third from almost the same spot at 10:08 to make it 8-2.

Kadri scored then tipped his ninth — and the 200th of his career — past Campbell at 16:36.

Toronto’s 21 goals over the last four games match the team’s entire output in October when the team got off to a scuffling start.

The intrigue surrounding Alexander ahead of puck drop was far from the first time a so-called “EBUG” has been forced to come out of the stands in Toronto.

David Ayres famously took the crease for Carolina in February 2020 after both Hurricanes netminders were injured before picking up an improbable 6-3 victory.

Alexander’s teammate, fellow U of T goalie Alex Bishop, then signed a one-day amateur tryout with the Leafs earlier this season when the club ran into injury and salary cap issues.

Notes: Bunting stretched his point streak to five games (two goals, seven assists) to tie Detroit’s Moritz Seider for a longest by a rookie this season. … Michael Hutchinson dressed as Campbell’s No. 2 in place of Joseph Woll (undisclosed). … The Avalanche visit Montreal on Thursday before heading to Ottawa on Saturday. … The Leafs travel to Minnesota on Saturday and Winnipeg on Sunday.

Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press



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