NHL·Recap

Matthews, McElhinney give Leafs needed boost over Stars

Auston Matthews and the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs picked up a much-needed victory, edging out the Dallas Stars 3-1 at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night.

Rookie scores team-leading 25th in 3-1 win over Dallas

Game Wrap: Matthews, McElhinney lead Maple Leafs over Stars

5 years ago
1:36
Toronto beats Dallas 3-1, Curtis McElhinney 39 saves. 1:36

Curtis McElhinney isn't feeling old, even as the most senior member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I'm hanging out with 20-year-olds," said McElhinney with a grin. "It's one of those things that keeps you young."

The 33-year-old may be getting up there in age by Leafs standards — he's one of only five players 30 or older — but his play has been anything but creaky. McElhinney stopped 39-of-40 shots in his third start for Toronto on Tuesday night, helping the Leafs to a much-needed 3-1 victory over the Dallas Stars.

It was just the second win in the last six games for the club, which has struggled defensively of late, yielding 22 goals over the previous four games.

Dallas got only one past McElhinney, who's delivered exactly what the Leafs were hoping for when they picked him up off waivers from Columbus last month. Toronto wanted someone to solidify the backup goaltending position while providing support to first-year No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen. Jhonas Enroth was expected to fill those duties, but he struggled in only four starts with the club and was placed on waivers himself in early December.

McElhinney shines

McElhinney is 2-1-0 in his three starts with a .964 save percentage, yielding two goals or less in each.

Toronto will need him to keep that up, intent on employing the veteran on the second half of back-to-back sets — six of which remain — the rest of the way.

Head coach Mike Babcock was pleased with the early returns and complimentary of the affect that McElhinney was having on his young group as well as Andersen, who's struggled in the new year amid a heavy workload (43 starts this season).

"He works hard every single day," Babcock said of the London, Ont., native. "So when it's his turn it's not lucky that he plays good he's actually earned the right to play good and feel good about himself."

McElhinney, who posted a .924 save percentage in seven appearances with the Blue Jackets this season, came up big at various points against the Stars. There was the four-minute power play that Dallas drew towards the end of the first period, the Leafs netminder stopping all six shots that came his way.

He was sturdy, too, as Toronto tried to protect a lead in the third period, turning down 16-of-17 shots in the final 20 minutes. The only one to beat him was a Tyler Seguin one-time power-play blast. The Stars nearly scored again shorthanded minutes later, but Jamie Benn's opportunity was denied by McElhinney, who was subsequently driven to the ice on the play by Adam Cracknell.

He remained down on the ice for a few moments afterward before ultimately staying in the game.

'Don't back up'

"You just want to be big in there," said McElhinney, who's six foot three and 200 pounds and claimed to be winded from the Cracknell collision. "Pucks were hitting me and the rebounds were there too but the guys were doing a good job of clearing it out."

Clearing foes around the net had been a problem for the Leafs recently, especially on Monday night in a 6-5 overtime loss to New York. The Islanders picked Toronto apart in that respect, pouncing on rebound opportunities and loose pucks around Andersen, who yielded six goals on 34 shots.

"I thought we were way harder around our net in our own zone than we were [Monday] night when we were light in that area," Babcock said.

Toronto's coach also saw his team do a better job of protecting a third period lead after a pair slipped away one night earlier in the loss to New York. The Leafs are now 20-1-7 when leading after two periods.

"We turn it into something it's not," Babcock said. "It's just a game. Just play like the game's tied and go get the next one. Don't be conservative. Don't back up. Don't protect anything. Just play the damn game."

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