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Hurricanes extend struggling Maple Leafs winless streak to three

Seth Jarvis Brent Burns Carolina Hurricanes Seth Jarvis Brent Burns - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs held their own Saturday, at least in even-strength play.

Sebastian Aho had one goal and two assists in helping lead the Carolina Hurricanes to a 3-2 win over the struggling Leafs. The Hurricanes went 2-for-4 on the power play, with Aho's empty-netter coming late in the contest.

"Team played hard, team played well. Obviously special teams are the difference in the game," Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. "We knew that was going to be a major challenge coming in.

"In the last month or so, both on power play and penalty kill, that's been the top team in the league and it's carried them through a lot. So 5-on-5, I liked our game a lot; defensively did not give up very much at all … but obviously, we didn't score, couldn't score enough."

Before the game, Keefe spoke about the costly mistakes his team had been making, including its 6-5 overtime loss to Columbus on Friday. He went on to say centre David Kampf was scratched from the game and right-winger Pontus Holmberg would step in.

"I guess you could call it a message to the group in the sense … there's going to be less tolerance for that," Keefe said pre-game. "We've got to get better."

Keefe said post-game that he didn't regret having Kampf sit despite his prowess on the penalty kill.

Michael Bunting and Seth Jarvis added the other goals for Carolina (20-13-4), which extended its winning streak to three games. Pyotr Kochetkov made 25 saves.

"Our goalie, (Kochetkov) was great" Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind'Amour said of stopping the Leafs' fifth-best scoring offence. "I hate that the last one counted because it was such a great save.

"But he was the difference. Kept us in there, made some big saves and obviously we were able to capitalize on the power play early."

Timothy Liljegren and Nicholas Robertson replied for Toronto (17-10-7), which got 25 stops from Martin Jones. The Leafs have now dropped three straight and five of their last six games.

"Yeah … even strength, our game has really improved (from) the start of the week," captain John Tavares said about correcting the mistakes Keefe talked about. "We played against Ottawa, ended up letting the game get away from us, (then) giving up as much as we did yesterday.

"We got everything (but) power plays and empty-netters. So, important that we do a better job on the (penalty) kill and obviously when we get our power plays, we've got to do a better job of executing and finding a way to get rewarded."

Keefe, however, looked pleased with Jones's play after goaltender Ilya Samsonov's struggles continued on Friday in giving up six goals on 21 shots.

"He keeps them out, that's what you're looking for," Keefe said.

Bunting opened the scoring just 2:24 into the contest on the power play. Aho found him open in the slot from behind the goal and he beat Jones five-hole.

The Leafs continued to struggle finding the back of the net in the second period. Matthew Knies got a takeaway in Carolina's zone and went in on net but couldn't get a shot off trying to shield the puck from a defender.

Auston Matthews followed up soon after with a wrist shot but failed to score 9:23 into the frame.

Jarvis doubled the lead on another power play at 13:52 of the middle frame. He tipped in a centring pass from Andrei Svechnikov, silencing the 18,974 in attendance at Scotiabank Arena.

Liljegren put Toronto on the board 4:16 into the third period. Max Domi drove down the left side and found Liljegren trailing and he wired it past Kochetkov.

Aho intercepted a pass in his own zone and dashed down the ice to score an empty-netter with 54.7 seconds left.

Robertson scored with seven seconds left to bring the Leafs within one. The play was reviewed and overturned to a goal due to Kochetkov's glove going past the goal line.


The Leafs travel to Los Angeles to play the Kings on Tuesday.

The Hurricanes head to New York to face the Rangers on Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2023.