Matthews shines in return to action, Leafs best Sharks, 5-3
TAVARES OPENS SCORING FOR LEAFS - WITH NICE HAND FROM MATTHEWS, MARNER
Toronto was looking to extend its win streak from two to three games Wednesday, and centre John Tavares put the Leafs in the right direction with a power play goal 3:38 into the first period:
As has become the norm this year, Tavares has benefitted from playing alongside winger Mitch Marner, who began Tavares' scoring sequence with a slap-pass from the blueline to centre Auston Matthews; and Matthews perfectly moved the puck to Tavares for his 16th goal of the season. The Leafs were fighting against the NHL's best penalty-kill team in the Sharks, but the Buds built an advantage for themselves thanks to selfless, smart hockey.
SHARKS TIE IT MIDWAY THROUGH FIRST, BUT MATTHEWS, TAVARES (AGAIN) GIVE BUDS TWO-GOAL ADVANTAGE
The Sharks got a goal from forward Tomas Hertl to tie the game at 10:40 of the first, but 39 seconds after that, the Leafs responded with a power-play goal from Matthews:
Playing his first game after an upper-body injury sidelined him for 14 games, Matthews looked in top form immediately. He showed how he made his teammates better on Tavares' goal, then showed how he can contribute on his own.
Then, with 18 seconds left until the first intermission, Tavares struck again, and the Leafs had a 3-1 advantage:
Marner - who assisted on all three of Toronto's goals in the first period - skated flat-out to get a new stick while the play was moving up the ice, and managed to get the puck on his stick, and shortly thereafter, to Tavares for his second goal of the night. To say there's solid chemistry between the two forwards would be to understate it.
MARLEAU STARTS SECOND PERIOD RIGHT WITH GOAL AGAINST HIS FORMER TEAM
Leafs forward Patrick Marleau was a staple in San Jose for nearly two decades, but now, in his second season with Toronto, he finally accomplished what some thought might never happen - he scored on the Sharks:
Marleau's slick goal - craftily set up by Johnsson on the power play just 1:53 into the second period - marked his first-ever goal against San Jose. It was the sixth of the season for Marleau, but it probably meant a little bit more than that. And it stretched the Leafs' lead to 4-1.
SHARKS SCORE TO HALT LEAFS' MOMENTUM - BUT MATTHEWS' SECOND OF GAME AND ANDERSEN'S TYPICALLY SOLID PLAY ICES THIRD STRAIGHT WIN FOR TORONTO
The Sharks are a quality hockey team, and they didn't collapse after Marleau's goal. San Jose forward Joe Pavelski cut Toronto's lead to 4-2 at the 4:18 mark of the second, Unfortunately for them, that was the final goal of the middle period, and Buds goalie Frederik Andersen was having a typically-outstanding evening in net. Andersen turned aside 12 of 13 Sharks shots in the second frame, another 14 of 15 in the third, and a grand total of 38 shots stopped on the night.
The back-breaker for the Sharks came in the form of Matthews' second goal of the game, which came at 10:59 of the third period:
Matthews' amazing deflection lead to his 12th goal of the season, and gave him a pair of goals and three points in his return to action. The Leafs have performed well in his absence, but his return makes Toronto's game that much more frightening to their opponents, and the Buds' win Wednesday proved why.