One week after getting thumped by the Stars in Dallas, the Leafs turned the tables on their same opponents, skating to a 3-1 win at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night.
Curtis McElhinney was given the starting assignment in place of a resting Frederik Andersen and was sensational, making 39 saves.
Toronto showed no weariness from playing in the second of back-to-back nights, coming off an agonizing overtime loss in Long Island just 24 hours earlier. Jake Gardiner ended a personal 21-game goal drought, wiring a point shot past Antti Niemi for the only goal of the first period.
In the middle frame, Gardiner’s shot once again resulted in a Leafs’ tally following a deflection by Auston Matthews for the Leaf rookie’s 25th marker of the season.
Tyler Seguin finally got the Stars on the board with a third period power play marker, suddenly leaving Leafs fans anxiously holding their collective breath, given Toronto’s propensity for surrendering leads. But on this night, the defence – and the goaltending – held the fort.
After Nikita Zaitsev’s power play goal put the Leafs up by a pair, McElhinney did the rest. The Leafs’ netminder made a crucial save off Patrick Sharp late in the game to help preserve the two points for his team.
Leafs coach Mike Babcock said that the key to playing defensively, following a four-game stretch in which his team gave up 22 goals, was to “not cheat” for offence.
“Just making sure we’re under the puck, still in good position – they’ve got a lot of firepower up front so we want to make sure we limit that,” Babcock said. “I think we did tonight for the most part.”
McElhinney, meanwhile, fondly erased the memory of his brief stint between the pipes seven days ago in Dallas.
“I think the biggest thing was the relief appearance I made against Dallas was tough, not really the result I wanted going in there,” he said. “I think there was certainly a little motivation coming back here tonight.”
van Riemsdyk-Bozak- Marner