TORONTO, ON - At the time it seemed improbable - through foolishly pessimistic - that Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, in particular, could rival, even top what was an unforgettable head-to-head debut way back in October, but they came darn close Tuesday in the self-described centre of the hockey universe.
The pair squared off for the second time in their young careers, and like Chapter 1 in Winnipeg, Laine got the upper hand in the goal column, but Matthews and the hometown Leafs came out with the victory this time around.
Jake Gardiner scored 2:29 into overtime, and Matthews had three helpers along the way, to give the Leafs a 5-4 win.
Laine, meanwhile, scored twice to help the Jets earn a valuable extra point, sending the club home with a 2-0-2 record on this four-game road trip.
Bryan Little and Nikolaj Ehlers had the other goals for Winnipeg, while Connor Hellebuyck made 32 saves.
"I don't think either team felt that they could get a handle on the game," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. "I can't remember the last time I saw that many icings in one game. For our part we didn't look quite the way we've looked on this trip, and we didn't transition particularly smoothly and never got that neutral zone speed going. It was a bit of a grinder, a bit of a dog in some ways. There were lots of goals but not a whole lot of plays made by either team."
Video: POSTGAME | Bryan Little
The Jets, though, have to be happy about the six points they gathered over the past week, putting them in the hunt for a wild-card playoff spot with 20 games to play.
"I think we've kind of re-established our game a little bit," said captain Blake Wheeler. "We seem to have everyone pushing in the same direction and when we do that, we're a tough team to play against."
With the two tallies, Laine now owns the franchise record for goals in a rookie season, surpassing Ilya Kovalchuk's 29-goal, 2001-02 campaign. Laine's 54 points leads all rookies, as he has now established a three-point separation between himself and Matthews and four fewer games.
Video: POSTGAME | Patrik Laine
"That was a different game," said Laine, who added, in jest, that his goal this year was to score only one goal in the National Hockey League. "It went from end to end, and when we scored, they scored after that. It was a weird game. We got a point and we're going to take that."
Asked whether or not the 30-goal plateau means anything extra, Laine casually brushed it off.
"My goal was to make the team and now I've helped my team win, and that's my biggest goal now."
Mark Scheifele, meanwhile, after recording a pair of helpers, is now up to 62 points on the year, tying the career-high he set last year with 20 games left to play.
With the Jets leading 4-3 in the third, William Nylander tied the game with the Leafs' third PPG of the night, slamming home the rebound after Matthews' blast caromed off the end boards.
"I think we were running on fumes a little bit, but guys battled hard tonight," Wheeler said.
The Jets built up a 2-1 lead in the first period, but were on their heels throughout - a theme that carried over into the second. The Leafs tied the game twice in the final five minute of the period, but as they did early in the opening frame, the Jets were quick to reply both times.
Ehlers gave his team a 3-2 lead - snapping an eight-game goal drought - with a sweet redirection at 17:24, and just 31 seconds after Leo Komarov scored a power-play goal to tie things up, Laine put the Jets back in front with a wicked shot from the top of the circles.
Video: WPG@TOR: Ehlers deflects Morrissey's blast into net
With two Leafs concerning themselves with Dustin Byfuglien down low, Scheifele dished out to Laine, who picked the far corner on Andersen with nothing but daylight in front of him.
"We don't talk to Patty anymore. We just talk to everyone else and tell them to give him the puck," said Maurice with a smile.
"What a special, special talent. He's a good young kid and he's got lots of room to get bigger and stronger. He's strong now, but this guy's got another 10-15 pounds to put on his legs and his back, and when that happens he will get all the shots he wants off.
"Special, special player."
Video: WPG@TOR: Laine whips home his second of the game
It was a tough start for the Jets, who surrendered a Komarov goal in the opening minute, but they responded well after purging some early jitters.
Laine and the Jets replied at 4:25, on a play we've seen so many times this year, as the rookie took a beautiful feed from Scheifele and rifled a one-timer past Andersen from the top of the left circle, stunning everyone - including the goalie - at the sold-out ACC.
Video: WPG@TOR: Laine hammers home one-timer from the circle
The Jets took a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal at 10:33 as Little crashed the net and shovelled home the rebound from a Dustin Byfuglien point shot, giving the veteran 17 on the year.
Little, who was all over the ice in Period 1, nearly put the Jets up by a pair - again on the PP - with five seconds left, but the goal was quickly waved off due to a high stick.
The Jets will now have five days off before returning to action next Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild.
"Obviously it would be nice to get both points and have a win before the break, but I thought we did a lot of good things these past few games and on this road trip, and hopefully we don't lose a step when we come back," Little said.
LATE HITS: The Jets were without Jacob Trouba as he served the first of a two-game suspension. Julian Melchiori, who was recalled on Feb. 14 after Toby Enstrom was placed on IR, replaced him on D, playing 22:02 alongside Dustin Byfuglien most often.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com