TORONTO — Jack Campbell has entered the Maple Leafs’ record books.
The goaltender extended his winning streak to 10 games in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Montreal, passing Felix Potvin (1993), Jacques Plante (1970-71) and John Ross Roach (1925) to set a new franchise mark.
Campbell’s 32-save showing against the Canadiens was the kind of clutch performance Toronto has come to expect from him this season, and was especially needed on a night that began with some uncertainty surrounding forward William Nylander.
The Leafs announced prior to puck drop that Nylander was being held out for precautionary reasons because of exposure to a potentially positive COVID-19 case in a close contact outside the team. Nylander was said to be isolating and would be reevaluated on Thursday pending further test results.
Alexander Barabanov was elevated from the taxi squad to replace Nylander in the Leafs’ lineup, suiting up for his first NHL game since March 1. And from there Toronto, perched atop the North Division with 57 points, barely missed a beat as Campbell backstopped them to a victory and a spot in Leafs’ lore.
“He passes off a lot of attention to his teammates and credit to his teammates, but I think it's important to give Jack his moment here,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “He’s been through a lot, and worked extremely hard to put himself in a position to play like this and get these results. He deserves everything that has come his way. Our team is thrilled for him and clearly played hard for him in that third period.”
Campbell was mauled when the final buzzer sounded to signal his feat was accomplished. He shared a jubilant exchange with Mitch Marner in particular, where Marner emphatically counted to 10 on his fingers to rhyme off each of Campbell’s victories. It was a moment the netminder said he’ll never forget, but true to form he shrugged off any individual accolades.
“We must be playing well,” Campbell said of winning 10 straight starts. “Just to get one win is a big deal, because it's a tough league and we need everybody to win and that's what we've been getting. It's super special and an honour and something that I'll be able to look back on sometime but right now it's just back to work and trying to get better.”
The 29-year-old is not just a perfect 10-0-0 on the season now, but his .944 save percentage and 1.58 goals-against average are best in the NHL among goalies with at least 10 starts. Campbell has produced his impressive stats while also battling through a leg injury he originally suffered on Jan. 24 in Calgary, which has twice forced him to miss playing time. And since Frederik Andersen has been sidelined with a lower-body injury since March 20, Campbell has been carrying the load for the Leafs in net while managing his own ailment.
“I'm just so happy for him, he's such an amazing person,” said Auston Matthews, who scored the Leafs’ first goal in Wednesday’s win. “He brings a lot of joy in everybody's lives and in the locker room and I just couldn't be happier for him. He played unbelievable tonight, he's been unbelievable this season. He's just such a special person and we're all just so happy for him.”
Toronto really leaned on Campbell in the second period of his historic night, when Montreal did all they could to rob him of the potential distinction.
The scoring started early on Wednesday, with Matthews’ wraparound goal and Corey Perry’s wrister creating a 1-1 tie that would hold until the third period.
Toronto was outshot 17-4 in a forgettable second frame, but roared back to life in the final 20 minutes. T.J. Brodie broke the stalemate with his first goal as a Leaf, popping a puck behind Jake Allen from the slot. Barabanov assisted on the score to earn his first NHL point.
Then Matthews’ line went to work again in the offensive zone, and Zach Hyman pounced on a rebound to make it 3-1 Toronto.
Allen was pulled late in the third and Perry came calling again, banging in a loose puck on Campbell to cut the Leafs’ lead to 3-2 with 2:15 to play in regulation.
It was too little, too late for Montreal though as Campbell and the Leafs – winners of five straight – came out on top.
“It's really hard to take [the puck] from them,” Keefe said of Montreal. “They shoot the puck from everywhere, they come hard, they defend hard, they take away space. So we knew that there was potential for that. Jack was solid, lots of volume, lots of pucks coming at the net through traffic and I thought our team did a good job despite being under siege."
The Leafs don’t play again until facing the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, and it remains to be seen what Nylander’s status will be by then.
Nylander did participate in the Leafs’ full morning skate on Wednesday, before informing the team around lunchtime about potentially being exposed to a positive COVID-19 case. The NHL allowed the game between Toronto and Montreal to go on as scheduled though and now the Leafs will have to wait and see about next steps.
“Credit to Will for how he handled it in terms of being upfront and letting us know about the potential situation,” said Keefe. “I think Will handled himself really well. It's important to point out that Will didn't break any protocols here, or do anything outside of the rules or the protocols. It's a very unfortunate situation. We're going to, of course, support Will through this and we'll just have to wait for more information.”