Matthews leads Leafs over Capitals in home opener

Matthews leads Leafs over Capitals in home opener


TORONTO – Sheldon Keefe wanted a response.

Matthews leads Leafs over Capitals in home opener

The Maple Leafs head coach got exactly that in his team’s home opener thanks to a familiar face — and a couple new ones.

Auston Matthews scored the winner in the third period and Ilya Samsonov made 24 saves against his former team as Toronto defeated the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Thursday.

The Leafs were coming off a poor showing in a 4-3 road loss in Montreal some 24 hours earlier in their curtain-raiser that made for an uncomfortable flight home.

Keefe gave a blistering assessment of that performance and wasn’t any happier Thursday morning when he met the media following a pointed team meeting.

“You don’t want to use one of those bullets after Game 1,” he said following the victory. “We have high expectations as a team.

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“It was important for us to really talk about that, be honest about it, not just brush it aside as just another game or just the one game of 82.”

Calle Jarnkrok, who like Samsonov signed in free agency, and John Tavares had the other goals for the Leafs (1-1-0). Morgan Rielly added two assists.

“It is one game,” Matthews, the reigning Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP coming off the league’s first 60-goal season in a decade, said of the Montreal defeat. “But you always want to start off well.

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“Good bounce-back win.”

Nic Dowd and Marcus Johansson replied for Washington. Charlie Lindgren stopped 36 shots for the Capitals (0-2-0), who were coming off Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Boston in their home opener.

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“A start we don’t want to have,” Washington captain Alex Ovehckin said. “A wake-up call.”

With both teams playing the second of a back-to-back, there wasn’t much ice available in the third period until Matthews tipped a Mark Giordano point shot that handcuffed Lindgren and dribbled over the goal line to snap a 2-2 tie at 6:55.

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Samsonov and his new teammates were then forced to hold on late with the Leafs short-handed on two occasions inside the final four minutes and Lindgren on the bench for an extra attacker.

“We talked about being more patient with our game,” Tavares said. “We tried to do a little too much (in Montreal), caught us chasing a little bit.”

Toronto opened the scoring at 6:40 of the first on a power play that finally clicked after a couple great chances when Rielly found Tavares.

The Capitals responded at 9:57 through Dowd before Johansson gave Washington the lead on a shot off the rush — one that Samsonov, who played parts of three seasons with the Capitals before getting cut loose in July, will want back at 13:52.

The Leafs put a big bet down on Samsonov and Matt Murray — two goaltenders with solid pedigrees, but also lots to prove based on recent performance — after letting Jack Campbell walk in free agency.

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“A lot of emotion in the first period,” the Russian netminder said. “First game with the Leafs for me and (against) my old team.”

Starting in place of No. 1 option Darcy Kuemper, Lindgren could do nothing on Toronto’s equalizer at 4:03 of the second when Alexander Kerfoot took a pass at the offensive blue line and delayed before finding a streaking Jarnkrok for his first with the Leafs.

Samsonov was in a shooting gallery later in the period on a power play, including a blast from Ovechkin.

Toronto came agonizingly close to pushing ahead just prior to the intermission, but both Matthews and Michael Bunting failed to connect on a bouncing puck in Lindgren’s crease before the Leafs nudged in front in the third.

“We had a frank discussion this morning,” Keefe said. “The guys responded really well.”


Samsonov was drafted 22nd overall by Washington at the 2015 draft, but didn’t receive a qualifying offer from Washington, making him a free agent.

The 25-year-old was 52-22-8 with a .902 save percentage and 2.81 goals-against average in 89 regular-season appearances with the Capitals.

“My old teammates, a lot of talking with me today,” Samsonov said with a smile. “Lots of bad words … that’s fine.”

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Hollywood star and former professional wrestler Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson was in the building to promote his new movie “Black Adam.”

“TV timeout, kind of minding my own business,” Matthews said. “I look up and The Rock comes flying out of nowhere. It was pretty cool.”

Leafs: Host the Ottawa Senators on Saturday in the first of four meetings with their provincial rivals.

Capitals: Host the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday to open a two-game homestand.



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