James van Riemsdyk entered Tuesday’s outing at Air Canada Centre mired in an eight-game goal drought, but snapped out of his slump convincingly.
The Leafs forward registered his first-ever hat trick in a Toronto uniform – and the second of his career – leading his team to a 6-2 win over the Nashville Predators.
“I thought the puck was following us around tonight as a line and I was obviously on the fortunate end of some of those bounces and was able to be opportunistic on the chances,” van Riemsdyk said. The line of Tyler Bozak, Mitch Marner and the man known as JVR was dominant, combining for eleven points on the night. van Riemsdyk added an assist to his impressive game total, and Bozak collected four helpers of his own.
Marner opened the scoring just 1:04 into the game, coming out of the corner and firing a quick snap shot past Nashville’s backup goalie Marek Mazanec. van Riemsdyk gave his team a two-goal cushion, skating through the slot and eventually converting his own rebound off a defender.
The Predators managed to tie the score before the first period was over, but the Leafs answered after van Riemsdyk capitalized on a cross-ice feed from Bozak. Nashville crept to within a goal once again after Viktor Arvidsson was sent in on a breakaway and got the better of Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen.
Toronto broke the game open in the final frame. Leo Komarov craftily deflected a point shot from Martin Marincin to put the Leafs up 4-2. JVR completed his offensive outburst after Bozak won a faceoff in the Nashville zone. van Riemsdyk eventually found the puck and sniped a backhander past Mazanec, causing hats to rain from the stands at ACC.
JVR’s other hat trick came in a Flyers uniform, on March 26, 2011 against the New York Islanders.
For good measure, William Nylander also found the back of the net, ending a nine-game goal slump of his own.
The four assists compiled by Bozak represents a personal career best for a single game. “I think we can still improve, but obviously it’s fun playing with those guys for me,” Bozak said of the chemistry between himself and his linemates. “They do a lot of work, I just try to complement them as much as I can and get to the right spots on the ice and distribute the puck to them as much as possible.”
Andersen made 32 saves in the victory as the Leafs improved their record to 7-6-3 (6-2-0 at home).