A rolling puck that nearly got away from Jason Spezza on his shootout attempt was the kind of situation that could easily lead to a missed opportunity.
The Maple Leafs forward instead displayed a veteran’s touch by handling the challenge with aplomb. It proved to be the difference in Toronto’s 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday at Bell MTS Place.
Spezza managed to settle the puck down, put a move on Connor Hellebuyck and slid it in a small gap between the goalie’s outstretched pad and the post for the lone goal of the shootout.
“I just tried to make a good move and outwait him,” Spezza said. “Lucky it went in.”
Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mark Scheifele were unable to beat Toronto goaltender Jack Campbell in the shootout. Campbell improved to 8-0-0 on the season.
“It’s a big goal for us and Soupy with the big three saves,” said Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner. “So both sides, it’s a great result and something that we’re very happy with.”
Auston Matthews missed his shootout chance for the North Division-leading Maple Leafs, who improved to 24-10-3. The Jets, now five points behind Toronto in the standings, fell to 22-14-2.
Toronto had several great chances to put the game away on an overtime power play, but couldn’t beat Hellebuyck, who played in his 300th career regular-season game.
Travis Dermott scored in regulation time for the Maple Leafs. Andrew Copp had the lone goal for the Jets.
“While there wasn’t the free-flowing offence that we’ve seen in the past between Toronto and Winnipeg, there was quality offence in bursts out there where the goalies were the difference,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
Zach Hyman showed some early zip for Toronto in a quiet first period. He sped around the net on his first shift and beat Hellebuyck only to watch the puck spurt out just wide of the post.
Campbell was steady at the other end in an opening stanza that had just a few decent scoring chances.
Dermott snapped a puck from the point that seemed to catch Hellebuyck off guard at 5:16 of the second period. The rather innocuous one-timer knuckled its way inside the post for his second goal of the season.
The Jets answered moments later after Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly pressed a bit too far at the Winnipeg blue line.
Adam Lowry took advantage by racing ahead on a 2-on-1 break, feeding Copp for his 12th of the year at 11:50.
Toronto’s Alex Kerfoot hit the post late in the second period and teammate Alex Galchenyuk found the iron early in the third.
The Jets pressed midway in the final period, forcing Campbell to make a pair of diving saves.
“He was just outstanding,” said Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “You can just see his confidence growing and you can see the team’s confidence in him growing as well. He was just terrific.”
The Toronto netminder appeared to favour his leg after making a great stop on Connor, but shook it off and stayed in the game.
The Maple Leafs’ power-play woes continued as they went 0-for-3 on the night. Toronto has just one goal in its last 28 opportunities with the man advantage.
“Eventually one will drop,” Marner said. “So we’ve just got to stay patient with it.”
Winnipeg was 0-for-2 on the power play. The Maple Leafs outshot the Jets 38-32.
Wheeler had three shots over 15 minutes of ice time. He left Wednesday’s game against the Maple Leafs – a 3-1 Toronto win – with an undisclosed injury.
Earlier in the day, the Jets said that defenceman Nathan Beaulieu will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum.
The NHL announced Friday that a Jets home game against the Ottawa Senators scheduled for May 7 will be played Monday night. The change is a result of recently postponed games affecting the Jets and Vancouver Canucks.
The Maple Leafs will continue their road trip on Sunday against the Calgary Flames.