Matthews scores twice, Samsonov makes 37 saves to lead Maple Leafs past Jets

Auston Matthews scored twice early in the second period and Ilya Samosonov was stellar in making 37 saves as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the visiting Winnipeg Jets 4-1 on Thursday night.

Mitch Marner and Mark Giordano, into the empty net, had the other goals for Toronto (28-11-7), while Michael Bunting added two assists.

Kyle Connor replied for Winnipeg (29-16-1), which got 23 stops from Connor Hellebuyck.

The Jets, who entered as the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, carried much of the play in the first — outshooting Toronto 16-6 in a period where Samsonov had to be on his toes — but the Leafs had the best chance when Matthews pinged a shot off Hellebuyck’s crossbar on a breakaway.

Last season’s 60-goal man eventually found the range just eight seconds into the middle period when he stepped around Mark Scheifele and beat Hellebuyck five-hole off the rush.

The Leafs made it 2-0 less than four minutes later when Winnipeg got caught puck-watching and Bunting found Matthews in front to rip his 24th of the campaign upstairs.

Coming off Tuesday’s ugly 4-1 loss in Montreal, the Jets went to the power play with less than seven minutes left in the second, but Marner fired his 17th past Hellebuyck on a short-handed 2-on-1 as the winger built on his franchise record by registering at least a point in 20 straight home games.

Samsonov had to be sharp late in the second as the visitors started to push back, including a good pad stop on Connor.

The Russian netminder then denied the Jets sniper on a power play early in the third before Winnipeg went to a two-man advantage that saw Connor finally connect on a one-timer for his 23rd.

Pierre Engvall hit the post for Toronto midway through the third before Timothy Liljegren took a puck up high, leaving the Leafs with five defencemen for the final 6:25.

But Giordano iced things into the empty net with Hellebuyck on the bench as Toronto sent Winnipeg to its second straight regulation defeat.

Homecoming for Perfetti

Jets rookie Cole Perfetti said he “lost count” how many family and friends would be in attendance for his first game at Scotiabank Arena.

“Something you dream of,” said the 21-year-old forward from nearby Whitby, Ont. “Pretty anxious, pretty excited.”

Leafs, Jets on Provorov

Philadelphia defenceman Ivan Provorov’s boycott of a pre-game Pride celebration earlier this week — citing his religion — continues to be a topic of conversation across the NHL.

“I, personally, believe in equality,” Toronto blue-liner Morgan Rielly said Thursday morning. “This is a place where you can come and participate and feel accepted and safe.”

Provorov sat out Tuesday’s warm-up where Philadelphia wore Pride-themed jerseys and sticks wrapped in rainbow tape.

The 26-year-old, who is Russian Orthodox, said afterwards he respected “everybody’s choices.”

Rielly added it was “tough to say” if a player with similar views would be welcomed into Toronto’s fold.

“No matter who you are, where you’re from, you have an opportunity to be in this room and feel accepted,” he said. “That’s how we treat people. We’re pretty firm on that.”

Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey, meanwhile, said he’s always supported Pride initiatives.

“I have my views,” he said. “That was [Provorov’s] choice to make. I made my choice; and it was a different one.”

The Leafs posted the message “Love All, Hate None” on the scoreboard before puck drop Thursday.

“Bad look for our game,” said Rielly, who has marched in Toronto’s Pride parade. “Another reminder there’s lots of work to be done until we get to a spot that we can feel really proud.”

Both team are back in action on Saturday. The Maple Leafs visit Montreal, while the Jets visit Ottawa.

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