Matthews leads Leafs over Capitals in home opener

TORONTO – Auston Matthews scored the winner in the third period as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Washington Capitals 3-2 in their home opener Thursday.

John Tavares and Calle Jarnkrok had the other goals for Toronto. Morgan Rielly added two assists.

Ilya Samsonov made 24 saves against his former team as the Leafs (1-1-0) rebounded from a disappointing 4-3 road loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Wednesday’s curtain-raiser.

Nic Dowd and Marcus Johansson replied for Washington.

Charlie Lindgren stopped 36 shots for the Capitals (0-2-0), who were coming of a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins in their home opener 24 hours earlier.

With both teams playing the second of a back-to-back, there wasn’t much ice available in the third period until Mark Giordano found a seam on a point shot that Matthews got a piece of with his stick before it handcuffed Lindgren and dribbled over the goal line, snapping a 2-2 tie at 6:55.

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The reigning Hart Trophy winner and 60-goal man’s first point of the season allowed the team to exhale after head coach Sheldon Keefe ripped Toronto’s performance in Montreal a night earlier.

Jarnkrok then fired wide on a short-handed 2-on-1 before Lindgren also denied Mitch Marner on another chance to keep the visitors within striking distance at Scotiabank Arena.

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Samonov 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 to seal the win.

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 at the lip of the crease with a slick feed.

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The Capitals responded at 9:57 when Dowd found the back of the net from in close 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.

Starting in place of No. 1 netminder Darcy Kuemper on the heels of Washington’s home opener, Lindgren stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes, but could do nothing on Toronto’s equalizer at 4:03 of the second.

Alexander Kerfoot took a pass from Rielly at the offensive blue line and delayed before finding a streaking Jarnkrok with a terrific feed for his first with the Leafs after signing in free agency.

Samsonov was in a shooting gallery against his old teammates later in the period on a power play, including a blast from Alex Ovechkin before also denying Dmitry Orlov with the glove.

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

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OLD FACE, NEW PLACE

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.

AMIROV IN THE HOUSE

Rodion Amirov, who was selected by the Leafs with the 15th pick in 2020, was introduced along with the rest of the team before puck drop.

The winger, 21, was diagnosed with a brain tumour earlier this year and recently completed his fourth round of chemotherapy.

PIPES AND DRUMS

The 48th Highlanders, who have played at every Toronto home opener since 1931, continued the tradition with their pipes and drums on the ice prior to warmups.

ROCK BOTTOM

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

UP NEXT

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

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

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2022.

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&© 2022 The Canadian Press

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