Matthews ties it, leaves with injury; Leafs top Isles in SO
TORONTO (AP) — Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock acknowledged his team didn’t play very well Thursday night, and his players know things could become much more difficult if they have to deal with another injury absence for Auston Matthews.
Tyler Bozak scored the shootout winner in the first round and Toronto squeezed out a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders after Matthews left the game. He tipped in Jake Gardiner’s shot to tie it 3-all with 3:29 remaining in the third period, but exited with 1:06 to go in regulation favoring his right shoulder after being sandwiched by Adam Pelech and Cal Clutterbuck.
Matthews did not return. The 20-year-old Toronto star missed six games in December with a concussion as the Maple Leafs went 2-4 without him. He sat out four games in November with an undisclosed upper-body injury.
“Clearly he’s a big part of our team and going down the stretch we’re going to need him, so hopefully it’s not too bad,” teammate Nazem Kadri said.
Babcock didn’t give much of an update and said the club would know more about Matthews’ status on Friday at practice.
Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly had the other Maple Leafs goals, and Frederik Andersen made 32 saves. Toronto (38-20-5) has won eight straight at home for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
“Obviously, we weren’t very good,” Babcock said. “Anybody who watches us regularly knows that we weren’t that good. Saw it coming yesterday in practice, talked about it then and our preparation wasn’t good enough.”
Bozak beat Jaroslav Halak high blocker side for his third game-deciding shootout goal of the season. Bozak is tied for the NHL lead in shootout winners.
“He is unbelievable at it. I mean, he always talks and jokes about it, how good he was back in the day, and he still hasn’t lost that touch,” Marner said. “He’s been great for us in that category, but I mean, I think we’ve got to stop going that route. Thankfully we have him or else we might be in trouble.”
Ryan Pulock, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle scored for the Islanders (29-26-7), and Halak turned aside 28 shots. New York, tied with Columbus for the second Eastern Conference wild card, dropped to 4-6-2 since the All-Star break and 13-15-3 on the road this season.
With his three points, Barzal has a team-leading 65 and a 14-point lead over Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL’s rookie scoring race.
Barzal has eight games with three or more points this season, one shy of Bryan Trottier’s franchise rookie record.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t score (in overtime). It’s unfortunate to lose that extra point,” Barzal said.
“We weren’t shy to push the pace early. (Clutterbuck) and (Casey Cizikas) finishing checks early kind of set the tone for the rest of us. I thought we played a pretty good game.”
Pulock opened the scoring at 8:39 of the first period, one-timing Thomas Hickey’s feed past Andersen, who appeared out of position on the play after Eberle bumped into him. Barzal picked up the secondary assist.
The Islanders’ rookie then doubled New York’s lead, backhanding the rebound of Anthony Beauvillier’s shot past Andersen for his 13th goal at 11:48.
Marner got the Maple Leafs on the board at 17:39. After picking up a feed from Kadri, he showed patience while waiting for Halak to make the first move and then beat the goaltender between the pads for his 15th of the season. The goal gave Marner 10 in his last 16 games.
Moments after the Islanders hit the post twice, Rielly tied it at 2 after taking Connor Brown’s pass and beating Halak high on the glove side for his sixth of the season at 1:28 of the third.
New York responded 99 seconds later as Eberle’s centering pass redirected off Nikita Zaitsev’s skate and past Andersen. Barzal got the primary assist on Eberle’s 21st of the season.
NOTES: Kadri’s first-period assist was the 300th point of his NHL career. He became the 35th player in Maple Leafs history to reach 300 points with the club.
Islanders: At the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
Maple Leafs: Conclude their three-game homestand against Boston on Saturday.
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