“Sammy was dialed in,” Matthews said. “It’s a big win for us, but the game could have definitely been a lot closer had it not been for him.”
The Jets, who entered as the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, carried much of the play in the first period — outshooting Toronto 16-6 in a period where Samsonov had to be on his toes — but the Maple Leafs had the best chance when Matthews pinged a shot off Hellebuyck’s crossbar on a breakaway.
Last season’s 60-goal man eventually found the range eight seconds into the middle period when he stepped around Mark Scheifele and beat Hellebuyck five-hole off the rush.
The Maple Leafs made it 2-0 less than four minutes later when Winnipeg got caught puck-watching and Bunting found Matthews in front to rip his 24th.
“Probably the game that’s looked closest to him last year in terms of being dangerous, in terms of the way the puck went in the net,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said about Matthews. “He could have had four or five tonight.”
Coming off a 4-1 loss in Montreal on Tuesday night, the Jets went to the power play with less than seven minutes left in the second, but Marner fired his 17th past Hellebuyck on a short-handed 2-on-1 as the winger built on his franchise record by registering at least a point in 20 straight home games.
“Played really well,” Jets coach Rick Bowness said. “The mistakes we made with their best players on the ice were glaring. To me, we gave them the first three goals. You give those guys — Matthews and Marner — those chances, they’re going to score.”
Jets: At Ottawa on Saturday night.
Maple Leafs: At Montreal on Saturday night.
AP NHL: www.apnews.com/hub/NHL and www.twitter.com/AP_Sports
The Associated Press