The first period and a half of Tuesday’s game was forgettable for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Sidney Crosby put on a show tallying four points (one goal, three assists) in the first two periods as the Penguins jumped all over the Leafs to take a 5-0 lead.
Leave it to Auston Matthews to stop the bleeding for Toronto late in the second period.
After a shot from the point missed the net, defenseman Jake Muzzin retrieved the puck along the left boards. Muzzin played the puck back to forward William Nylander.
Left unmarked in the circle, Matthews rocketed Nylander’s pass by Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry for his 43rd goal of the season.
He becomes the new leader in the clubhouse in the Rocket Richard race, breaking a tie with Boston Bruins’ forward David Pastrnak, who was idle Tuesday. Pastrnak and the Bruins are back in action Wednesday at the Edmonton Oilers.
Matthews has scored a goal in three of his last four games as he was able to inject some life into the team.
Kyle Clifford, recently acquired by Toronto from Los Angeles, scored his first goal with the Maple Leafs 86 seconds after Matthews’ 43rd goal of the season.
Matthews’ goal made it 5-2 heading to the third period. That would end up being the final score as Jarry stopped 34 shots for his 20th win of the season.
Toronto has now dropped three of its last four games. Sitting right on the playoff bubble, the Leafs have a tough five-game stretch to close February beginning with a rematch against the Penguins Thursday and then games against the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks.
The Maple Leafs will lean on Matthews to carry the bulk of the offensive load down the stretch.