Lucas Viveiros | The Avro Post
After missing an entire month, Toronto centre Auston Matthews picked up right where he left off.
The Maple Leafs superstar scored one of five goals for the buds, as the team tamed the Predators by a final score of 5-2.
Nashville came into the night winners of four straight, and 14 of their last 15 games overall, making them the hottest team in the National Hockey League.
Matthews’ return provided an added boost for the young Leafs, as the team seemed ready for business as soon as the puck dropped.
This payed off almost immediately, as James Van Riemsdyk continued to make the NHL look easy by scoring another power play marker, his 34th of the season, adding to his career high.
Nashville would respond in the second period when Leaf winger Connor Brown couldn’t bank the puck out of their zone, causing Predator goal scoring leader Viktor Arvidsson to slide the puck past Andersen.
But, from there it became all about the boys in the blue and white.
Auston Matthews made his impact by doing what he’s known for, making beautiful plays look effortless, ripping a bullet (29) past arguably the best goalie in the league this season, Pekka Rinne.
This put the Leafs up 2-1, and they kept it coming under two minutes later with a fortunate bounce off the boards that led to William Nylander burying his 16th of the season.
Toronto headed to the locker room with a two goal lead, and ensured it would’t get away from them just nine seconds into the third frame, when Marner whipped a powerful wrist shot past Rinne’s blocker (20).
Jake Gardiner would seal the deal with a bomb of his own (5) three and a half minutes later, deflating the best team in hockey.
Predators forward Scott Hartnell would add a tally late in the game, but it was too little too late, as the Leafs walked out of Bridgestone Arena with a convincing 5-2 victory.
The Maple Leafs will get back to work when they welcome coach Babcock’s old squad, the Detroit Red Wings to town on Saturday.
Puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m. from The Air Canada Centre and can be seen on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.
More news from the ice
- FUN FACT: Auston Matthews has recovered from injury three times this season, scoring in each game he has returned to the lineup
- Leafs forward James Van Riemsdyk now has eight goals in his last five contests
- Leafs d-man Morgan Rielly lead the team offensively with three assists in the victory
- Defensemen Nikita Zaitsev returned to the lineup after being absent the last five games with an illness
- Winger Leo Komarov looks as if he is days away from a possible return to the lineup, as he continues to skate with the club
- After the victory, the Maple Leafs now sit five points behind the Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division standings
- Nashville continues their push for the President’s trophy, locked in a head to head race with the Tampa Bay Lightning
- This was only the eighth home loss of the season for the Predators
- Nashville centre Kyle Turris played in his 600th NHL game
More coverage to follow. Image from Sportsnet.