Tavares helps Leafs hold off ferocious Jets’ rally


One game after storming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Blues, the Jets almost stormed back into Wednesday’s Canadian clash with the Maple Leafs.

Toronto largely quieted the Winnipeg crowd – you could, in fact, hear plenty of Leafs fans as the Buds took an early lead – as they carried a 3-0 lead into the third period. Chalk it up to desperation, or the tweak of swapping Patrik Laine out for a speedy, keyed-in Nikolaj Ehlers on Winnipeg’s top line, but the Jets made things really interesting.

Ehlers and hockey savant Mark Scheifele scored goals about 90 seconds apart, shrinking Toronto’s lead to 3-2 with plenty of time remaining.

The Maple Leafs could have cratered under that pressure … but nights like these remind you why it was so huge for this rising team to land John Tavares. The star center tapped in a loose puck two minutes after Scheifele’s goal to make it 4-2, and that really calmed things down for the Maple Leafs.

The Maple Leafs ultimately won 4-2, with that thrilling third period really backing up the hype of these two hyper-talented, young Canadian teams.

While Tavares’ goal served as critical insurance, Nazem Kadri finally broke his goal slump to generate the 3-0 tally, which would end up being the game-winner. You could see pure relief on the face of the center, whose opportunities have shrunk quite a bit with Tavares and Auston Matthews grabbing the biggest reps.

Through the first two periods, the Maple Leafs didn’t just generate a 3-0 advantage. They carried much of the play, generating a 28-18 shots on goal edge. The Jets’ mad late rush featured a whopping 22 SOG, with Ehlers emerging as a constant nuisance.

With that in mind, Frederik Andersen deserves serious credit.

The Leafs’ leaky defense might sabotage his chances of ever winning the Vezina Trophy, yet Andersen is at times a tremendous workhorse. He came to play in this one, stopping 38 out of 40 shots.

Considering all the media attention this game drew – the thriller was featured on both Canadian and American broadcasts – it has to be disappointing for Winnipeg to lose, and maybe “wake up” too late. On the other hand, they really might have something interesting if Ehlers finds lasting chemistry with Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

If you want to see these two sublimely talented teams trade chances and big saves once again, you won’t need to wait very long. The two teams will meet again in Toronto on Saturday.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.