By Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press on December 30, 2023.
TORONTO – Sebastian Aho had one goal and two assists in leading the Carolina Hurricanes to a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Michael Bunting and Seth Jarvis added the other goals for Carolina (20-13-4). The victory extended the Hurricanes’ winning streak to three games.
Pyotr Kochetkov made 26 saves.
Timothy Liljegren and Nicholas Robertson replied for Toronto (17-10-7), which got 25 stops from Martin Jones.
The Leafs have dropped five of their last six games.
Carolina went 2-for-4 on the power play, while Toronto went 0-for-3.
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.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi almost made it 2-0 at 10:34 but Auston Matthews cleared the puck from in front of the goal line after it got past Jones. Andrei Svechnikov was then stopped on a second chance.
A fight almost broke out with 4:07 left in the opening frame. Martin Necas knocked the net out of place getting pushed during the play, but took the puck around the goal and put it in after the play was whistled dead.
Jake McCabe and Simon Benoit took exception and shoved him into the end boards with others from both sides getting involved. Necas was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, while McCabe was called for roughing.
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.
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 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 to within one. The play was reviewed and overturned to a goal due to Kochetkov’s glove going past the goal line.
Toronto’s recent struggles were punctuated Friday by a 6-5 overtime loss to Columbus. Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said pre-game Saturday that he felt they made too many mistakes that made things easier for the Blue Jackets.
Keefe added that centre David Kampf would be scratched against Carolina, with right-winger Pontus Holmberg stepping into the lineup.
“In my opinion, (Kampf) just didn’t do a good enough job in some of those moments I’m talking about as a guy that we really rely on in those positions, especially when we’re playing with leads,” Keefe said. “He’s a very important player for us and he will be a lot better for us.
“I guess you could call it a message to the group in the sense “¦ there’s going to be less tolerance for that. We’ve got to get better.”
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.