TORONTO — John Tavares helped ease some of the pressure on his under-fire head coach.
At least for a few days.
The Maple Leafs captain registered the 11th hat trick of his career, including a jaw-dropping individual effort in the third period, to go along with an assist as Toronto snapped a four-game slide Wednesday with a 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
"He was on it," said Leafs centre Auston Matthews, who had a goal and an assist. "Made some pretty incredible plays. And obviously, his second one was just special.
"Great game by him leading the way."
"Whether it's myself or some of some of our other core guys (we want) to be difference-makers," said Tavares, who scored three times in a game for the first time since March 2019.
"No question you want to come out and have a strong game today."
The disjointed and wobbling Leafs, an organization that views itself as a Stanley Cup contender, limped home Sunday following an ugly 1-2-2 road trip accented by overtime losses to lowly San Jose and Anaheim.
The external pressure on Keefe ratcheted up with every dropped point through the first 10 games of the schedule, including defeats against Montreal and Arizona — teams that finished 32nd and 31st, respectively, last season.
But his players responded with a solid effort that should lower the temperature in hockey's biggest media market for the time being.
"We moved the puck much better," Keefe said. “We did a lot of good things."
"Effort was there," Farabee said. "Execution could have probably been a little bit better."
With his team up 2-1 early in the third, Samsonov made a huge stop on Flyers defenceman Tony DeAngelo on a 2-on-1 right off the faceoff at centre.
"He played on his head," Matthews said of the Leafs goaltender.
Aston-Reese then scored his first of the season, and first for Toronto, when the puck caromed to the winger with Sandstrom at his mercy at 2:49 for a 3-1 lead.
Tippett got the Flyers back within one with his second on a power-play effort Samsonov should have stopped at 7:01.
But Tavares, who was in the box for that one, provided highlight-reel insurance at 12:24 with his second of the night and sixth of the campaign when he stepped around Philadelphia defenceman Travis Sanheim before burying his own rebound.
"Big-time stuff," Keefe said.
Aston-Reese, who played against the Flyers a lot during his time with Pittsburgh, appreciated the sequence for a few reasons.
"It was nice to see him pull that move on who he did," said the forward.
Tavares completed his hat trick on a power play with 5:37 left in regulation when Sandstrom lost a skate blade and was out of position.
"It's been a little while," Tavares said of his three-goal performance. "Any time you have nights like this it's a team effort."
"Thought it was WWE for a second," Aston-Reese said. "Love to see guys stick up for their teammates."
Playing the second of a back-to-back following an overtime loss to the New York Rangers, the Flyers opened the scoring at 13:09 of Wednesday's first when Farabee buried his third.
Sandstrom, who was looking for his first career victory in his eighth appearance with Carter Hart getting a rest, held the fort on two early power plays, but Matthews slotted home his own rebound for his fourth on another man advantage at 16:40.
Tavares then ripped a one-timer that hit Konecny's stick with 1:27 remaining in the period for his fifth and a 2-1 lead Toronto would never surrender.
"Take the good, take the bad, move on," Matthews said. "Definitely want to just continue to elevate our pace, elevate our competitiveness.
"We're going to need to continue to take steps."
TORTS BACKS KEEFE
Flyers head coach John Tortorella came to the defence of Keefe during his media availability two hours before puck drop.
And the fiery bench boss took aim at the Toronto media.
"It's always the coach that gets the darts chucked at him," Tortorella said. "But I know in watching (Keefe) and coaching against him, I think he's a terrific coach.
"And I hope he jams it to you all, quite honestly."
Leafs: Host the Bruins on Saturday.
Capitals: Visit the Senators on Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2022.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press