The Toronto Maple Leafs started quickly and controlled play on the way to a comfortable 5-4 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Auston Matthews had two goals and an assist while Morgan Rielly contributed four assists for the Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs got on the board at 4:43 of the first period. On the power play, William Nylander received a cross-seam pass from Auston Matthews and beat Elvis Merzlikins to the stick side with a wrist shot. It was Nylander’s 11th goal of the season.
At 15:08 of the first period, Michael Bunting took a long stretch pass from Morgan Rielly. Bunting drove to the net from the left wing, with Blue Jackets defenseman Jake Bean on his back. Bunting then stopped and made a slick between-the-legs pass to the back post, where Auston Matthews tapped it into the open net.
Then – stop the presses! – Nick Ritchie scored his first goal of the season. The power forward was the beneficiary of a strong forecheck from Ondrej Kase and, left alone in front of the net, Ritchie deposited his first goal as a Maple Leaf at 16:30 of the first period.
Columbus scored their first goal at 11:39 of the second period. Zach Werenski passed the puck to Oliver Bjorkstrand in the slot and a backhand from Bjorkstrand slipped past Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell.
The Maple Leafs put the game on ice late in the second
At 18:34 of the second period, John Tavares deflected a Morgan Rielly shot for a quick power play marker. It was Tavares’ 12th goal of the season, and it came nine seconds after Bjorkstrand took a tripping penalty.
Off the ensuing faceoff, Morgan Rielly sent Auston Matthews in down the left wing and he ripped a wrist shot through Merzlikins. Matthews’ 17th goal of the season put Toronto up 5-1. The assist was Rielly’s fourth of the game.
The Blue Jackets replaced Merzlikins in goal with rookie Daniil Tarasov for the third period. Merzlikins allowed five goals on 30 shots.
But maybe not so fast
Bjorkstrand scored his second of the game, and eighth of the season, 33 seconds into the third period, deflecting a shot by defenceman Jake Bean.
Blue Jackets centre Sean Kuraly scored at 16:25 of the third period. He converted a pass from Alexandre Texier with a chip shot that trickled through Campbell. The Blue Jackets pulled their goaltender and tried to close the gap.
Ultimately, they scored with 0.6 second remaining in the third period, as Max Domi put in his fourth of the season.
The game ended with a 5-4 score but it never felt that close.
Auston Matthews had a pair of goals plus an assist for the Maple Leafs and Morgan Rielly had four assists. William Nylander contributed a goal an an assist for the Blue and White.
The Maple Leafs are now 18-7-2, pushing the Florida Panthers for top spot in the Atlantic Division. The Blue Jackets fall to 13-11, fifth place in the Metropolitan Division.
Toronto is at home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday.
The Maple Leafs played without Jason Spezza, who was suspended, as well as injured winger Mitch Marner and injured defencemen Rasmus Sandin and Travis Dermott.
Quotes and takeaways coming soon.