TORONTO (AP) — Auston Matthews scored three goals for his fourth career hat trick and the streaking Toronto Maple Leafs thumped the Colorado Avalanche 8-3 on Wednesday night.
John Tavares had a goal and two assists for Toronto (17-6-1), while William Nylander scored one and set up another. Jack Campbell made 28 saves.
“Really good effort from everybody,” Matthews said. “Playing a really good team with a lot of really dangerous players, you know that they’re going to get their push and they’re going to get their opportunities.
“All 20 guys out there did a really good job.”
Jason Spezza, Travis Dermott and Pierre Engvall had the other goals for the Maple Leafs, who have won five straight games and are 15-2-0 over their last 17 to move atop the NHL standings.
Michael Bunting added three assists, while Mitch Marner and Alexander Kerfoot had two apiece.
“Good preparation coming in, good mindset,” Tavares said. “Good energy, especially coming off the West Coast trip.”
Nazem Kadri had two goals and Samuel Girard also scored for Colorado (11-7-1). Jonas Johansson stopped 33 shots as the Avalanche lost for the second time in three games after winning six in a row.
Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon, who had two assists, returned to the lineup after missing eight games with a lower-body injury.
Kadri suited up as a visitor in Toronto for the second time since being traded to Colorado in July 2019.
The Avalanche announced shortly before the game that No. 1 goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper-body injury) — announced as Wednesday’s starter by coach Jared Bednar following the morning skate — was unavailable.
“That was not the issue,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “The issue was we just didn’t play good enough.”
University of Toronto netminder Jett Alexander dressed as Johansson’s emergency backup for warmups, but the 22-year-old from Bloomfield, Ontario, remained in the locker-room area until third-stringer Justus Annunen arrived at Scotiabank Arena in time to start the second period on Colorado’s bench.
“I don’t think it was an 8-3 game, if we’re being honest,” said Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, whose team built a 3-0 lead in the first. “We played against a really good team that had some adversity.
“That makes the game feel a lot different than it really was.”
The Maple Leafs were coming off a four-game road trip that saw them sweep the New York Islanders and all three California teams.
“The energy in the room was that it’d be easy to make an excuse right now,” Dermott said. “But tonight was a game that I think we could really show our character.”
The Leafs went up 1-0 at 4:31 of the first period when Tavares delicately fed a pass ahead to Nylander, who ripped his 10th goal of the season past Johansson’s glove.
Toronto made it 2-0 at 7:57 as Spezza tapped home his fifth when the Colorado netminder could only get a piece of Nick Ritchie’s initial shot.
The Leafs went up by three at 14:24 when Matthews — minus his trademark moustache after shaving it off for charity — took a feed in front from Marner and went between the legs and back against the grain to roof his team-leading 11th goal, and fourth in as many games.
“He’s such a special player,” Dermott said. “When he’s hot like this, you just want to put the puck ... not even on his tape.
“You put it on his backhand — he’ll make magic out of that.”
Colorado got on the board with 1.2 seconds left in the period when Girard fired a one-timer past Campbell for his second.
The NHL’s second star in November after going 9-2-0 with a league-leading .959 save percentage, Campbell made a number of big stops early in the second period as Colorado started to tilt the ice.
But the Avalanche finally broke through at 11:57 when Kadri — the league’s third star last month thanks to 21 points in 10 games — swept his eighth past Campbell.
The Leafs got that one back 47 seconds later when Dermott’s one-timer went off a Colorado stick in front and beat Johansson upstairs for his first of the season.
Campbell then made terrific saves on Logan O’Connor and Alex Newhook in quick succession before Tavares slipped his own rebound through Johansson for his 11th to match Matthews and push Toronto’s lead back to three.
Matthews retook top spot on the Leafs’ stats page when he collected a pass from Marner in tight before outwaiting Johansson for his 12th just 46 seconds into third.
And the Leafs sniper and reigning Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy winner then fired in his third of the night at 8:41 on a shot that beat the Colorado netminder shortside.
“Auston being Auston. Just spectacular,” Campbell said.
Fans at Scotiabank Arena chanted Matthews’ name after hats rained down on the ice.
“It definitely gives you chills down your spine,” Matthews said. “It’s just a really special place to play.
“It’s fun when the crowd gets going like that and you play as well we did tonight.”
Engvall added his third from almost the same spot at 10:08 to make it 8-2.
Kadri tipped his ninth — and the 200th of his career — past Campbell at 16:36.
NOTES: Toronto’s 21 goals over the last four games match the team’s entire output in October when the Maple Leafs got off to a scuffling start. ... Bunting stretched his point streak to five games (two goals, seven assists) to tie Detroit’s Moritz Seider for longest by a rookie this season. ... Michael Hutchinson dressed as Campbell’s backup in place of Joseph Woll (undisclosed).
Avalanche: At the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.
Maple Leafs: At the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.
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