NHL·Recap

Leafs' rookie brigade leads charge to playoffs with win over Devils

Auston Matthews and William Nylander had two points apiece as the Toronto Maple Leafs picked up their seventh win in the last nine games, a 4-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.

Toronto's victory creates 3-point bulge over Bruins in Atlantic Division

Game Wrap: Toronto bedevils New Jersey, tightens grip on playoff spot

6 years ago
Duration 2:14
Toronto's 4-2 win over New Jersey, coupled with Boston's 6-3 loss to Tampa, moves the Leafs 3 points up on the Bruins for 3rd place in the Atlantic Division

These were the games, Mike Babcock said, that good teams found a way to win and indeed, his emerging Toronto Maple Leafs did just that on a record-setting Thursday night.

Playing on the second half of a back-to-back against one of the worst teams in the NHL, the Leafs managed to pull out their seventh win in the last nine games (7-1-1), a 4-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils. The win gave Toronto (85 points) a three-point cushion over Boston (82) for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand.

The Leafs, who beat Columbus on Wednesday night, are only five points back of Ottawa (88) for second.

"I think you have to learn how to win these games over and over again," Babcock said of the win over the Devils, who haven't won on the road since Feb. 4. "You just expect it. It doesn't matter if it's back-to-back. It doesn't matter where you played. It doesn't matter who you play. You expect to win."

The victory was fuelled once again by the Leafs' rookie class with Auston Matthews and William Nylander both notching two points apiece.

Rolling especially since the start of February, Nylander set a new franchise rookie record by extending his points streak to 10 games — during which he's registered four goals and eight assists. His first point of the night, a helper on Josh Leivo's power-play goal, also gave him 25 power-play points this season to draw even with Dan Daoust for the franchise rookie mark (1982-83).

Leafs turn to Leivo 

Keith Kinkaid stopped Matthews's initial attempt from the right face-off circle, but struggled to smother the rebound, Leivo stuffing it into the goal. Leivo, who also drew the penalty that led to the man advantage, was getting his first chance to play since Feb. 28 after 10 straight healthy scratches.

Leivo stepped into the lineup for Eric Fehr, who had surgery for his hand, according to Babcock, and will be out indefinitely.

All this came after Curtis McElhinney allowed a weak first goal to John Moore less than three minutes into the opening frame.

It was later in the period, following a handoff from Matthews, that Nylander snapped his 21st goal of the year. He has 11 goals and 25 points since Feb. 1 to lead the Leafs, totalling 56 points on the season.

"Willy's obviously been playing lights out lately," Matthews said. "He's been playing unbelievable."

For the record 

Rookies continued to dent the Leafs' record book early in the second. Coming down the right side Mitch Marner fired a shot off the right pad of Kinkaid that kicked straight to James van Riemsdyk, who promptly banged in his 23rd goal of the year for the 3-1 lead. Marner notched his 40th assist of the season to equal Gus Bodnar's rookie mark for assists (1943-44).

Matthews, meanwhile, remains one goal from matching Wendel Clark's rookie franchise record of 34 and six points from tying Peter Ihnacak's rookie franchise mark for points (66). His two points against the Devils gave the 19-year-old the third-highest scoring season ever from a Leafs rookie, trailing only Ihnacak and Bodnar (62).

"We've got so many of us so I think all of us can feed off each other going through similar things," Matthews said of the Leafs rookies. "Especially towards this part of the season where your body's wearing down and we're fighting for a spot in the playoffs."​

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