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Nylander scores Leafs shootout winner in Vegas as Campbell shines in net once again

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William Nylander finished what he started on Tuesday night in the desert. 

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The Maple Leafs winger opened the scoring against the Vegas Golden Knights and later scored the only goal in a shootout, giving the Leafs a 4-3 win at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Nylander, the last shooter in the skills competition, lifted a shot over goalie Robin Lehner’s catching glove. Nylander was the only player on either side to score in the shootout. 

At the Leafs’ end, Jack Campbell, who was brilliant all night, stopped Evgenii Dadonov, Chandler Stephenson and Jonathan Marchessault in the shootout.

Auston Matthews scored in his eight consecutive road game, dating to Nov. 24 at Los Angeles. 

Despite the fifth win in six games for the Leafs, coach Sheldon Keefe wasn’t willing to excuse some bumps the team experienced for the second game in a row.

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Three nights earlier in Colorado, the Leafs had a 3-0 lead and lost in overtime; in Vegas, a 3-1 lead in the third period disappeared.

“The fact we got three out of four points in these two games is a very good sign for our team, and the fact you can take some valuable lessons,” Keefe said. “I don’t think it was a defensive issue (against Vegas). It’s more an issue of, we have to relax and play the game and make some plays and play on offence and control the play. 

“We can’t just be on our heels and that’s what I didn’t like about tonight. We didn’t push back offensively.”

The Leafs will seek to fix some of those issues on Wednesday night in Arizona against the Coyotes, who sit last in the NHL. Petr Mrazek will start in goal.

“It’s a game we can’t overlook,” Keefe said. “We should be a little aggravated about how we have let these leads slip away in these two games. We have not played a clean game yet on this trip.”

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The victory carried a couple of milestones for Campbell, who turned 30 on Sunday.

Campbell recorded his 18th win, setting a personal high for one season. It came in his 26th start, tying a career high set in 2019-20 with the Leafs and Los Angeles Kings.

In short, the steady Campbell has emerged as a star and will get serious consideration to help represent the Atlantic Division at the all-star game in Vegas Feb. 4-5. 

“The big question coming in for him was, can he stay healthy?” Keefe said. “He has done a great job of that. 

“Despite the workload, there hasn’t been a time where he has felt unable to practise or is sore. We’ve managed his workload on some practice days, but that is preventative more than anything. He’s in a good place with his body and managing it well. 

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“Regardless of how he answers questions (when Campbell is hard on himself after losses), the proof is when he’s in the net. He’s even-keel and he goes out and prepares for the next day and comes back and is ready to play. He has been great all season.”

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Shots on goal through 65 minutes were 34-18 for Vegas. Neither team had a good scoring chance in overtime.

Vegas tied the game at 11:48 of the third when Alex Pietrangelo faked and then fired a shot past Campbell during a 5-on-3 Vegas power play. With Kyle Clifford serving a tripping minor, the Leafs were penalized for too many men on the ice. Lehner stopped Ondrej Kase on a breakaway before the bench minor was called.

William Karlsson cut the Toronto lead to one goal at 1:34 after Reilly Smith beat Morgan Rielly and Alex Kerfoot on the forecheck to retrieve the puck.

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Kase was back in the Leafs lineup after missing the past two games with a minor injury he suffered in the gym last week. 

The second period was representative of what the best teams sometimes have to do to win hockey games — get sharp netminding to guide them through a rough patch.

The Leafs were flat as the second progressed, going 11 minutes without a shot on goal, and required Campbell to make some top-notch saves (including a blocker stop on Marchessault). After Campbell bought his teammates time, Matthews and Ilya Mikheyev scored five minutes apart to put Toronto up 3-1.

“I don’t know if I have any more words to describe how well he has played for us,” Matthews said of Campbell. “He came up big for us like he has all year. He kept us in. I can’t really speak any more highly about Soup.”

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Kase and Michael Bunting connected on a couple of short passes to set up Matthews for a doorstep deposit at 11:43. With the assist, Kase ran his point streak to seven games.

At 16:46, Mikheyev scored his fourth goal in five games when he put a bounce from a Wayne Simmonds shot off the end boards past Lehner.

The game was tied 1-1 after one period.

Nylander put the Leafs up 1-0 at 1:22 after he took a smart feed from Rielly and broke past Vegas defenceman Brayden McNabb to score on a forehand deke.

At the 13-minute mark, Keegan Kolesar scored 38 seconds after Nick Ritchie took a needless hooking minor in front of the Vegas net.

The Leafs remained without forwards Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall, who are in COVID-19 protocol. 

The Golden Knights were without four players — defencemen Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez and forwards Nicolas Roy and Nolan Patrick — who have been placed protocol.

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

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