The Toronto Maple Leafs will go for a sweep of a home-and-home set against the Columbus Blue Jackets when the teams meet Saturday night in the Ontario capital.
Toronto won the opener 3-0 at Columbus on Friday night with two goals from John Tavares, a tally from Pierre Engvall, two assists from Mitchell Marner and 30 saves from Ilya Samsonov, who earned his third shutout of the season.
It was the first game back from the All-Star break for both teams.
The victory opened a stretch of five games for Toronto against teams that are out of playoff contention.
“Thanks to my teammates, I’ve never seen better defense than tonight,” said Samsonov, who made his eighth straight start. “Shots blocked and how they played on the penalty kill, this shutout wasn’t about me. It was more about the team.”
Joseph Woll, who played four games for Toronto last season, is expected to make his season debut in goal for the Maple Leafs on Saturday. Matt Murray remains out due to an ankle injury.
Tavares said of the Friday victory, “We did some good things, I think the (defense) was really strong and physical.”
Marner added, “I thought we didn’t cheat for offense when we had the lead. It’s how we need to look at things more often. If we play the way we can, we are a hard team to beat.”
Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said, “We didn’t make it on the number of chances that we had to extend our lead, but within that I thought we played a pretty solid and patient game. We didn’t give up a lot and extended our lead in the third period, which is what you want to do.”
Joonas Korpisalo made 38 saves for the Blue Jackets, who have lost four straight (0-3-1) and are 2-6-2 in their past 10.
“That’s a pretty good hockey team there,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said of the Maple Leafs. “They’ve got six really good (defensemen). They’re where they’re at for a reason. This group (Toronto) has been growing together for a while, especially that core. They’ve been building, and that’s been a focus for them for their top guys.”
Blue Jackets captain Boone Jenner added, “We’ve got to find a way to create some more offense and put a few in the back of a net.”
Korpisalo kept Columbus in the game, but Toronto scored twice within 49 seconds in the third period on goals by Engvall and Tavares.
“(We) were a shot away for a long time,” Larsen said. “We actually had a couple of decent looks there at the end of the second and early in the third, and then they get those two quick ones on us.”
The Maple Leafs are still without Auston Matthews, who is nearing a return from a knee injury. He took part in practice on Thursday.
“Definitely moving in the right direction,” Matthews said. “I’m taking it day by day, hopefully it’s no longer than a week, getting in some good practices.”
He injured the knee Jan. 25 when the Maple Leafs played the New York Rangers. He said that he felt something in the knee during the pregame warmup.
“I got it checked out, I knew something was going on, just one of those weird things,” he said.
Columbus recalled defenseman Tim Berni from the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League ahead of the two-game series against Toronto. The Maple Leafs recalled forwards Pontus Holmberg, Alex Steeves and Woll from the AHL Toronto Marlies and put Murray on injured reserve.
–Field Level Media