TORONTO, Ontario – The Toronto Maple Leafs came into the night having won only four of their past 28 games, but tonight, on the second half of a back-to-back set, they rallied – willing their way to victory.
James van Riemsdyk scored 3:57 into overtime, sending the home crowd home happy in a 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets at Air Canada Centre.
Mark Scheifele recorded a goal and an assist, Drew Stafford tallied a pair of helpers and Michael Hutchinson made 29 saves, but it wasn’t enough.
Jacob Trouba and Michael Frolik scored the others for the Jets.
With the OT loss, the Jets now have a 30-20-11 record for 71 points.
“It was a sloppy, chippy kind of game. There wasn’t a lot of flow to it,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “I’m not sure that the chances that they had were any better than the ones we had… We didn’t have a great offensive push. We’re going to need these two [off] days to heal up a bit. We weren’t skating as well as I think we can.
“We aren’t getting up the ice and onto the puck as well as we’re capable. I think we’ll get that back. A couple of days and we’ll be good.”
The Leafs opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal at 12:57 as Leo Komarov teed up a shot from the top of the circle, beating the goaltender clean over the shoulder.
The Jets got it right back, however, levelling the score on the very same power-play chance. Snatching a loose puck down below the goal line, Trouba banked a centering pass off the stick of Toronto defenceman Morgan Rielly at the top of the crease, bringing the Jets back on even footing just 34 seconds after the opening tally.
After a bit of a slow start buoyed by the shorthanded goal against, the power-play was beginning to catch fire.
With Tyler Bozak off serving a tripping penalty, the Jets took a 2-1 lead late in the period. Capitalizing on an egregious turnover by rookie defenceman Petter Granlund, Scheifele rifled a shot top shelf on Bernier, putting the visitors up by one at 19:50.
“We’ve got to get past this game,” Scheifele said. “We obviously came out strong and played well in parts of the game, but we let up a lot and they were able to get their cycle game going, which we didn’t want. We’ve got to move on from it and be better.”
Shots on goal favoured the Leafs 10-8 after a penalty-filled opening frame.
Jonathan Bernier was the difference early on. Shorthanded, Andrew Ladd led a 145-foot 2-on-1 rush with Bryan Little, but the netminder made a beautiful blocker save, punching the captain’s high, hard shot to the corner.
Stretching out the right pad, Bernier came up with another big save midway through the second, foiling Michael Frolik as he nearly finished off a 2-on-1 with Jim Slater.
Hutchinson was equally good at the other end, but a deflection by Daniel Winnik at 15:07 pulled the Leafs into a 2-2 tie.
Undeterred, the visitors took a 3-2 lead with 54.5 seconds left in the middle frame. On a play made possible by the workmanlike efforts of Stafford and Tyler Myers, who collectively engineered the preceding turnover, Frolik made no mistake, rifling a shot from the high slot past Bernier.
But the Leafs weren’t going away. Nazem Kadri made it a 3-3 game early in the third period as he delivered a shot short side on Hutchinson, atoning for his earlier miss on a wraparound to send the game to overtime.
There, after the Leafs failed a capitalize on a 4-on-3 power-play, van Riemsdyk ended the suspense, converting a pass from Olli Jokinen for the winner.
“They got on the forecheck and we got on our toes [in the third period]. It’s a tough loss,” Frolik said. “We weren’t at our best today but I thought we were decent. We were better than in Washington and that was the goal. The point (lost) hurts. We’ve got to learn from it and be better for the next one.
“We need to get better and get our energy back.”
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com