TORONTO — A Nazem Kadri hat trick and superb goaltending from Frederik Andersen.
The simple math added up to another victory for the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
Kadri recorded his fourth career National Hockey League hat trick and Andersen made a career-high 54 saves as the Leafs won for the ninth time in 10 games, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-3.
Kadri also had two assists to give him a career-high five points. He completed the hat trick at 11:21 of the third when Mitch Marner found him hiding and fed him with a perfect pass.
“It’s always a thrill to score three and contribute offensively, that’s what makes the game the most fun,” Kadri said. “That’s what attracts you when you first start playing, is putting the puck in the back of the net. “My linemates contributed just as much as I did. They found me. I just tried to get open and the puck seemed to find me.”
It was Kadri’s first three-goal game at the ACC, after his first three hat tricks were on the road.
The win came at a price for the Leafs, as defenceman Jake Gardiner left in the first period and did not return.
While social media was abuzz with the possibility that Gardiner had been traded, the Leafs announced at the start of the third period that Gardiner would not return because of a lower-body injury.
“They just told me he has some sort of lower-body thing and he has some kind of spasm or something like that and they couldn’t get it to relax,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “So they would not let him come back.”
The Leafs have a day off on Thursday, and Babcock wasn’t sure whether Gardiner would be able to practise on Friday before the Leafs set off for weekend games in Pittsburgh and Detroit.
A Gardiner absence for any length of time would create a large hole on the Leafs blue line. Not only was Gardiner leading the Leafs in ice time heading into the game with an average of 22 minutes 52 seconds, he has been providing more than his fair share of offence, recording 35 points (four goals and 31 assists) in 58 games.
The Blue Jackets, who won eight of their previous nine games in Toronto, kept up their recent shoot-from-anywhere mentality.
After recording 101 shots on goal in their previous two games combined (51 against the New York Islanders on Tuesday and 50 versus the New Jersey Devils on Saturday), the Jackets fired 57 at Andersen. The previous high given up by the Leafs this season was 48.
There was a standing ovation for Andersen in the third period and chants of “Freddie, Freddie!” after he made a point-blank toe save on Boone Jenner. Had the Jackets forward scored, the game would have been tied 4-4.
In 10 games since getting Marner as a linemate, Kadri has seven goals and eight assists. Marner has seven goals and six assists in that span. Patrick Marleau, the other member of the trio, had three points on Wednesday, giving him three goals and four assists in the 10 games.
“I don’t know for sure,” Babcock said of the reasons behind the Kadri-Marner success. “I used them together last year and they were no good together.”
That’s the positive. The negative was the Leafs’ inability to get out of their own end. They had 28 shots on Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo, but when the teams were playing five-on-five, the Jackets had 85 shot attempts to the Leafs’ 40.
“That’s Freddie’s effort,” Babcock said when asked about the Leafs’ work ethic. “We weren’t very good, for whatever reason.
“They had jump, we didn’t. I didn’t think at any time we were really that good, but we battled hard and found a way to get a win.
“Mitch and Naz and Marleau had it on a string, and they scored enough that the rest of us were allowed to leave with a win. And Freddie was outstanding.”
LEAFS PASSING FANCY
So, Nazem Kadri, who passed the puck better, you or Mitch Marner?
Marner found Kadri at the back door through a group of players, setting up Kadri for his third goal of the game on Wednesday; earlier, Kadri feathered a backhand pass to Marner for what was the winner in a 6-3 Leafs win against Columbus.
“They were both up there,” Kadri said, grinning. “They were both great passes. I just tried to linger on the third goal and figured Mitch was going to throw it. He has eyes in the back of his head.”
It wasn’t a no-look pass on the part of Marner, but that did not take away from the beauty of it.
“I saw Naz back door and I was lucky enough that it got through,” Marner said.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies