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Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner passes the puck to forward Matthew Knies (not pictured) as he closes in on Arizona Coyotes goaltender Connor Ingram at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Feb. 29.John E. Sokolowski/Reuters

The Toronto Maple Leafs were forced to rely on their Scottsdale connection to climb past the Arizona Coyotes 4-2 Thursday night to return to winning ways.

Auston Matthews potted his 53rd goal of the season, while fellow Arizona product Matthew Knies – who was also raised in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale – scored the opener and added an assist as the Leafs registered their first home win against the Coyotes since Feb. 11, 2020.

In a strange quirk of fate, Thursday’s victory was also the first home regulation win over Arizona since Oct. 17, 2002, which just so happens to be the day that Knies was born.

“I had no idea,” the 24-year-old said afterwards. “It’s quite a long time. I feel pretty old. I mean, that’s pretty incredible. That’s a huge coincidence.”

Like Matthews, Knies grew up rooting for the Coyotes, and actually played hockey in the franchise’s Jr. Coyotes program. For both to score against their childhood team in the same game was a nice footnote to a bounceback victory for Toronto, which had seen its seven-game winning streak ended at home to the defending Stanley Cup-champion Golden Knights on Tuesday.

“It means a lot you know,” Knies said. “I grew up watching this team … So it’s a pretty cool moment and it’s nice that he could get one too.”

The full circle moment very nearly counted for nothing though, as after falling behind 3-0, Arizona mounted a late surge, tying the game just shy of the midway point of the third period and threatening to keep Toronto waiting even longer for a home win against the Coyotes.

But Joseph Woll, back in the Maple Leafs’ crease after 35 games out with a high ankle sprain, made 30 saves in his first taste of NHL action since December 7. The victory improved his record to 9-5-1, while ensuring that Arizona’s losing streak reached 14 games, earning head coach Sheldon Keefe his 200th NHL win in the process.

“It was a good test,” Woll said. “But you know, I thought we as a team played strong and kept them to the outside and did the job and finished [it] off.”

To be fair, he could scarcely have hoped for a better early reintroduction to the NHL.

Arizona didn’t register its first shot on goal until almost 10 minutes had elapsed, and even then it was of the soft-lob variety, on a wrister by Logan Cooley.

Cooley was even more generous to the home side just three minutes later, when he tried to slide a pass inside the blueline to the far point. However, Mitch Marner reacted quickly to intercept and race down the ice. And, cool as you like, just when he had Coyotes goaltender Connor Ingram committed, he dropped a no-look pass between his legs to the waiting Knies, who calmly slid in the puck for the opening goal.

For Knies, it was his 11th goal of the season, while for Marner, it was his 50th assist, making it 22 points in his past 12 games. Only Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler, with six, has more 50-assist seasons with the Leafs than Marner’s five.

And the Leafs fans had more reason to cheer with just over two minutes to play in the period, when Ryan Reaves and Liam O’Brien locked horns, with Reaves comfortably winning the fight, firing up his teammates.

“I thought that was a big, big turning point, honestly,” Matthews said afterwards. “And I think he’s been playing some of the best hockey that I’ve seen from him since he’s been here the last couple of weeks and I think he’s really found his groove.”

The first period didn’t go all Toronto’s way, however. The team lost Mark Giordano to injury, with the veteran defenceman’s shooting momentum forcing him to slide into the end boards. He was helped off the ice and did not return.

The development inadvertently brought a little relief to another of Keefe’s problems – a lefty-heavy blueline. For the seventh time this season, the Leafs had dressed six left-handed defencemen, but Giordano’s untimely absence forced some outside-the-box thinking, and like a modern-day Sergei Fedorov, Marner – a righty – was drafted in to help out.

“I don’t know how much the defence liked that, but it’s always fun to see,” Matthews joked of his linemate’s position switch. “And I mean, like I said last time he was back there, he can really do it all and his skill set and the way he skates and sees the ice, makes for a pretty good defenceman.”

Tyler Bertuzzi doubled the Leafs’ advantage early in the second period – with William Nylander picking up an assist – while Matthews scored the eventual game winner at the 13:12 mark of the period, with Nylander grabbing another assist, before icing the game late on with an empty-netter for his 32nd goal – and 82nd point – of the season. Former Leaf Alex Kerfoot and Cooley scored for Arizona.

Despite Marner’s versatility on the night, the Leafs wasted little time reinforcing their blueline, reacquiring Russian blueliner Ilya Lyubushkin shortly after the end of Thursday’s game. The 29-year-old, a right-hander who has four assists in 55 games for the Anaheim Ducks this season, previously played for the Leafs during the 2021-22 season. He was a picked up in a three-team trade, with the Leafs trading away a third-round pick in the 2025 draft to Anaheim, and a sixth-round pick in the 2024 draft to the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Maple Leafs, third in the Atlantic Division and eight points back of both the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins entering play Thursday night with two games in hand, get another chance to close the gap on Saturday, when they play host to the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Rangers.

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