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Maple Leafs’ top line gives Ducks defence fits in fast and furious matchup

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews, left, and goaltender Curtis McElhinney celebrate their team's win against the Anaheim Ducks in Toronto, on Feb. 5, 2018.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The coaches didn't like it but it sure was a lot of fun for Toronto Maple Leafs' fans.

In a classic night of firewagon hockey, with the Leafs and Anaheim Ducks trading rushes in wonderful long stretches and their top lines trading goals, the Leafs proved to be a little quicker and a little more opportunistic. They took away a 7-4 win over the Ducks Monday night with Auston Matthews and William Nylander scoring two goals each and Curtis McElhinney providing solid relief in the Leafs goal when Frederik Andersen was injured.

It may have been a big night for Matthews and linemates Nylander and Zach Hyman but judging by his customary tight-lipped post-game press conference, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock might have enjoyed Sunday's all-offence Super Bowl more than his team's win. Then again, he didn't have to worry about being in charge of defence for either the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles or the New England Patriots.

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"Matty's line had a huge night. The puck went in a lot at both ends obviously. It was nice to win," Babcock said.

The tally at the end of the night saw the Ducks' top line of centre Ryan Getzlaf and wingers Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell with more points. They had a total of nine, with Perry leading the way with four assists. Rakell scored twice and added an assist while Getzlaf had a goal and an assist.

However, the Matthews line, which shook off a determined checking job from Ducks centre Ryan Kesler and his line, scored when it mattered. They finished with a total of eight points, which included the last three goals of the game. Matthews and Nylander both had an assist to go with their two goals while Hyman finished with an empty-net goal and an assist.

"We were joking about the football game, all offence, that's kind of how it was tonight [Monday]," said Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner, who set up both of Nylander's goals. "We definitely need to tighten up in some areas but obviously we got it done so we'll take it."

As for Matthews's line, Gardiner said, "they were phenomenal. They were buzzing up and down the ice. If they're going to score like that, we'll win a lot of games."

Gardiner had a big hand in the line's success. In the first period, he smacked the puck off Ducks winger Andrew Cogliano's stick, sending it right to Nylander, who had a clear path to the net for his first goal. Then, early in the third period after the Leafs controlled a faceoff in their zone, Gardiner spotted Nylander flying up the ice and hit him with a 100-foot pass that was right on the tape for his second breakaway goal. That one stood up as the winning goal.

"It was lots of fun," Nylander said of the game. "Maybe we don't want that many goals but I think it was fun for the fans."

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In addition to giving the Leafs defence trouble all night – Babcock shuffled his three pairs madly in the third period to try and stop them – the Getzlaf line did some literal damage late in the second period. During one of its forays into the Leafs zone, goaltender Frederik Andersen was lost to a head injury at 13:45 of the second period.

Perry went hard to the net and fell forward as he collided with Andersen. As he fell, Perry's left skate came up and the heel of it struck Andersen hard on the face. The Leafs goaltender lay on the ice in obvious pain for several minutes and was escorted to the dressing room.

McElhinney came on to replace Andersen and was solid over the rest of the game, allowing one goal on 16 shots.

There was no definitive word on Andersen's head injury. Babcock said he spoke to the goaltender after the game. When he was asked how Andersen was, Babcock said, "I think fine." Babcock said more will be known Tuesday.

While Getzlaf's line tormented the Leafs defence, so, too, did the Matthews line with the Ducks defenders. Matthews flew down the left side to the Ducks net and blew past defenceman Kevin Bieksa on the way to open the scoring. He circled the net and before goaltender Ryan Miller could get across to the other post Matthews jammed in a perfect wraparound goal at 6:32.

Also scoring for the Leafs were Mitch Marner and Leo Komarov. Ondrej Kase had the other Ducks goal.

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Earlier in the day, the Leafs activated defenceman Roman Polak (illness) from the injured-reserve list and put him in the lineup for the game. To make room on the roster, rookie defenceman Andreas Borgman was loaned to their Toronto Marlies farm team.

Canadian Olympic athletes compete all over the world and adapt their routines accordingly, but when it comes to food, some just have to have their way. The Globe and Mail
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