MATTHEWS, MARNER COLLABORATE TO PUT LEAFS AHEAD EARLY IN FIRST FRAME
Aiming to win its fourth game in a row and its eighth game in its past 10, the Leafs pounced on the host Minnesota Wild on the power play when centre Auston Matthews scored his 13th of the season 6:06 into the first period to put Toronto ahead 1-0:
Video: TOR@MIN: Matthews snaps home Marner's feed for PPG
With the Leafs on the man advantage, it was a given Marner and Matthews would team up to try working their magic. And after Matthews deftly knocked down a cross-ice pass from Marner, he quickly fired it past Wild star goalie Devan Dubnyk for his third goal and fourth point in his past two games since returning from an injury that sidelined him for 14 games. Both Matthews and Marner are crucial components of the Leafs' attack, and this goal showed Leafs Nation and the NHL why they work so well together.
ENNIS' MARKER MIDWAY THROUGH FIRST PERIOD DOUBLES TORONTO'S ADVANTAGE
Six minutes and 13 seconds after Matthews scored, Leafs winger Tyler Ennis extended the visitors' lead when his attempt at a pass banked in off a Minnesota defenseman and gave Ennis his fourth goal of the season:
Video: TOR@MIN: Ennis banks one in off defender
Ennis was playing against his most recent employer in the Wild, and the veteran had to feel great about putting his current employer ahead. In 24 games, the 29-year-old is now halfway toward the goal total he had with Minnesota in 73 games last year - an indication of how much more he has to offer.
WILD STORM BACK WITH TWO GOALS TO TIE, BUT HYMAN RESTORES LEAFS' LEAD
The Wild have a stellar 8-3-2 record at home this season, so it was only natural to see them answer Toronto's offensive outburst with a run of their own: veteran Eric Staal scored to cut the Leafs' lead in half with 31 seconds left in the first, and then winger Jordan Greenaway tied things up at 5:17 of the second.
However, the Leafs weren't overwhelmed by Minnesota's resilience, and at the 14:38 mark of the second, Marner got hold of the puck in the Wild zone and fired a shot from the point that deflected off winger Zach Hyman past Dubnyk and into the net for Hyman's fifth goal of the year (and second in his past three games):
Video: TOR@MIN: Hyman deflects one past Dubnyk
Hyman's marker was a punch-back to the Wild, and the fact it was the last goal scored prior to the second intermission gave Toronto momentum entering the third.
WILD PULL EVEN ON ZUCKER GOAL MIDWAY THROUGH THIRD, BUT KADRI GOAL, HYMAN EMPTY-NETTER AND ANDERSEN'S SUPERB NET PLAY LOCK UP LEAFS' FOURTH STRAIGHT VICTORY
The Wild again found a way to pull even, this time getting a goal from winger Jason Zucker at 9:38 of the third. But despite being outshot by the Wild 18-8 in the third period (and 30-15 in the final two periods), Toronto proved opportunistic again and re-established their lead with 3:20 left in regulation time thanks to centre Nazem Kadri's eighth goal of the season:
Video: TOR@MIN: Kadri banks one off defender for lead
Kadri's goal was his first since he scored twice against the L.A. Kings Nov. 13, and it couldn't have come at a better time. The Wild had been pressuring Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen for a long stretch, and Andersen was superb once again, stopping 38 of 41 shots on the night for a
.927 save percentage. It was a relief, then, when the Leafs' single-goal lead was added to when Hyman scored his second of the evening - an empty-net marker that was his sixth of the season:
Video: TOR@MIN: Hyman pots second goal into empty net
Hyman's empty-netter was the end result of a tremendous defensive play, and it locked up Toronto's 10th road win this season. The Leafs have a couple days off to plan to extend their now-four-game-win-streak to five against the Sabres in Buffalo Tuesday, before returning home to Scotiabank Arena to take on the surprisingly tough Detroit Red Wings Thursday.
It isn't known if newly-signed winger William Nylander will be available to play in either of those games, but the Buds have no need to rush him back into the lineup; when the team is playing this well, head coach Mike Babcock can take his time making important roster decisions.