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Five Takeaways - Leafs at Blue Jackets - 03/22/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 5-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Wednesday at Nationwide Arena:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

 

Video: TOR@CBJ: Komarov taps in Kadri's feed after turnover

1. Komarov nets game's first goal, Matthews extends Toronto's lead with power play marker. The Leafs had at least a point in six of their past seven games entering Wednesday's road game against Columbus, and they came out of the gate with a robust physical approach that the Blue Jackets were thrown off by early in the opening period. As a result, Toronto was first on the scoreboard thanks to winger Leo Komarov, who scored his 12th of the year at 8:55 of the first on a nice setup by centre Nazem Kadri.

Video: TOR@CBJ: Matthews jams in rebound for power-play goal

The Leafs extended their lead on the power play just 1:59 after Komarov's goal, when centre Auston Matthews netted his team-leading 33rd of the season (with assists going to winger William Nylander and blueliner Jake Gardiner) to move within one goal of tying Buds legend Wendel Clark's franchise record for goals by a rookie. Toronto looked focused and determined to assert themselves against a Jackets team that had won eight of their past 10 contests, and their ability to produce offence at even strength and on the PP allowed them to do just that.

2. Jackets claw back to tie it with second-period goals from Savard, Saad. Columbus has a 26-9-1 home record this year and they began the second frame as if they intended to improve on it, getting their first goal of the night - on defenceman David Savard's sixth of the season just 43 seconds into the period - and tying the game at 6:58 of the frame when winger Brandon Saad deflected blueliner Zach Werenski's shot past Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen for his 21st of the year.

For all the talk about the Leafs' powerful offence - and that's deserved talk, by the way - the Jackets also have a fearsome ability to put the puck in the net and had 12 more goals-for (228 in total) heading into the game than did Toronto, and so it was no surprise there would be some push-back after the visitors jumped out to a two-goal advantage. But the Buds calmed down after Saad's marker, and it wouldn't be long before they regained the lead.

 

Video: TOR@CBJ: Nylander recovers to snipe top-shelf beauty

3. After extending points streak, Nylander registers multi-point night with brilliant goal to put Leafs back in front. Nylander's assist on Matthews' goal gave him at least one point in nine consecutive games, tying the Leafs' rookie record in that department. And he added to that achievement at the 13:23 mark when he snapped a shot high and past netminder Joonas Korpisalo to register his 20th goal of the season and put Toronto ahead 3-2.

With the goal, the 20-year-old Nylander became the fourth Leaf to hit the 20-goal plateau this year, but his latest marker was more important in that it answered back after the Blue Jackets' surge and allowed the Leafs to enter the final regulation period with the lead.

4. Leafs kill off major penalty to Polak to start third. Toronto didn't have any penalties through the first 40 minutes of action, but after D-man Roman Polak was given a major penalty and a game misconduct for boarding Oliver Bjorkstrand at 1:00 of the third period, the Leafs had to kill off a five-minute Jackets man advantage. It certainly wasn't easy, but the Buds' penalty-killers did an outstanding job during that time frame - as well as an additional 1:54 of ice time after the penalty expired and Toronto couldn't get their fifth man back on the ice until there was a stoppage in play - thanks to the hard work of veterans Eric Fehr, Brian Boyle and Matt Hunwick, among others.

Fehr was appearing in his first game as a Leaf since being acquired at the trade deadline from Pittsburgh, and he and his teammates battled hard along the boards and won races to the puck to prevent Columbus from building any momentum during the five-minute man-advantage. It was a crucial sequence, and it was an indication Toronto's defensive game has ratcheted up significantly of late.  

 

Video: TOR@CBJ: Kadri buries off-balance shot to extend lead

5. Kadri scores clutch goal to give Buds breathing room, Zaitsev adds empty-netter to seal the victory. The Blue Jackets continued pressuring the Leafs after failing to score on their extended power play, but, just as they did in beating Boston Monday at Air Canada Centre, the Leafs withstood their opponent's attack and found a way to get some breathing room with a burst of late-game offence: first, Kadri scored his 30th goal of the season (and his second point of the game) with 4:14 left in regulation time to make it 4-2 for Toronto; and then, with Columbus' net empty in favor of the extra skater, blueliner Nikita Zaitsev scored his fourth of the year to put the game out of reach and give the Buds a huge victory that propelled them past Boston to move into third spot in the Atlantic Division standings.

The Leafs won't have any time to admire this impressive win - they head home immediately to take on the New Jersey Devils at Air Canada Centre Thursday - but Leafs Nation undoubtedly is thrilled to see their resilience and all-around effort in beating two of the NHL's better teams in the past three games, and take one of its best (the Chicago Blackhawks) to overtime this past Saturday. Head coach Mike Babcock has his group dialled in at both ends of the ice, and with the help of Andersen - who stopped 32 of 34 Columbus shots Wednesday in a now-typically stellar performance - the Leafs are shining at the right time of the season.  

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