Matthews scores twice, Maple Leafs rout Islanders 7-1
TORONTO (AP) -- A loss would have knocked the Toronto Maple Leafs out of playoff position. Instead, they trounced the New York Islanders and set a season high for goals.
Auston Matthews scored twice, Frederik Andersen earned his 100th NHL win and the Maple Leafs routed the Islanders 7-1 on Tuesday night in a game with major postseason implications.
Toronto won for the third time in nine games and moved three points ahead of New York for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Maple Leafs trail Boston and Ottawa by one point for the final two automatic playoff spots in the Atlantic Division.
"I think we came out and just played the right way - played fast, just like our slogan says," said Matthews, referring to the "Play Fast. Play Right" mantra plastered across the team's dressing room walls. "When we do the right things we're definitely a tough team to play against."
Climbing up the standings since interim coach Doug Weight replaced Jack Capuano behind the bench, New York fell to 10-4-2 in its past 16 games.
Matthews increased his rookie total to 27 goals and Andersen stopped 33 shots. Josh Leivo had a career-high three points with one goal and two assists in just under 10 minutes for Toronto.
Nazem Kadri and William Nylander each had a goal and an assist. Tyler Bozak and Matt Hunwick also scored for the Maple Leafs.
Jason Chimera scored on a penalty shot for New York. Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube combined to give up seven goals on 41 shots.
After slow starts in their previous two games (both losses), the Maple Leafs decided to change up their routine and did not hold a morning skate Tuesday.
"We just thought it was the best thing for us," coach Mike Babcock said.
The switch spurred the desired result against the Islanders, as Toronto raced out to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
Leivo started the scoring just past the midway point of the first period, ripping a shot from the top of the left circle past Greiss. It was the first goal of the season for the 23-year-old Leivo, who suited up for only his fifth game. He got a rare opportunity to play with rookie wing Nikita Soshnikov sidelined by injury.
Kadri added to the lead with 32 seconds left in the period, inadvertently deflecting Nikita Zaitsev's point shot into the empty cage behind Greiss. The goal was Kadri's first in the past 10 games and 21st of the season, setting a career high.
New York, which won the first two meetings between the teams this season (including 6-5 in overtime against Andersen a week earlier), had its share of decent opportunities early on, twice hitting posts on shots from Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey.
Babcock credited Andersen for stabilizing things early amid some "heavy" offensive zone pressure from the Islanders.
"I thought Freddy made some real good saves tonight and the better your goalie plays, the more you settle down and the more you get dialed in," the coach said.
Toronto made it 3-0 midway through the second when Kadri fired a puck on goal from along the wall as he rushed down the left side. Greiss made a stick save, but shuffled it right to Nylander crashing the net. The puck bounced off the right knee of the 20-year-old Swede for his 15th goal this season, tied with Mitch Marner for second among Maple Leafs rookies behind Matthews.
From there, Andersen took over.
With the Maple Leafs short-handed, the 27-year-old shut down John Tavares and then Bailey moments later. After a 3-on-1 for Toronto came up empty, Andersen denied Chimera on a breakaway.
But the officials ruled Hunwick impeded Chimera's progress on the play. The veteran forward was awarded a penalty shot and he beat Andersen high to the blocker side to cut Toronto's lead to 3-1.
Andersen has scuffled in the new year, entering the night with an .893 save percentage in 16 starts since Jan. 1. He had been sitting on 99 wins for almost two weeks, his last victory coming on Feb. 4.
"I mean, it's nice, but it's more important the 26 we have as a team this year," he said.
Matthews pushed Toronto's lead back to three early in the third period, flipping a backhand rebound past Greiss on the power play. The rookie sensation another goal a short while later, depositing Connor Brown's feed from behind the net.
"Obviously, you know he's a real good player, but the NHL is a really good league and it's hard to score goals in this league," Babcock said of Matthews, who has four multigoal games this season. "He plays on a good line and he's an elite player and very determined with an elite, heavy shot and he goes to the traffic areas and that's where you score."
NOTES: The 19-year-old Matthews leads all rookies in goals and is three behind Sidney Crosby for the overall NHL lead. Matthews became the first Maple Leafs rookie since Daniel Marois in 1988-89 to reach 27 goals and is seven shy of equaling Wendel Clark's franchise rookie record. ... Babcock said Leivo earned another look on Wednesday night at Columbus - even with Soshnikov ready to return.
Islanders: Host the rival New York Rangers on Thursday night.
Maple Leafs: Head to Columbus on Wednesday to complete their 13th back-to-back set of the season. The club is 9-2-2 on the first night and 4-7-1 on the second.