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SOUPY STAYS HOT: Maple Leafs goalie sizzles as hosts down Rangers


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As the Maple Leafs’ win streak grows, so does the stature of Jack Campbell.

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Thanks to the NHL save percentage leader’s 26 stops and two goals from defenceman Morgan Rielly, the Leafs have won 10 of their past 11, getting past another tough test on Thursday against the New York Rangers. Campbell’s 10th win of the year, a 2-1 final, comes after a shutout performance on Tuesday against Nashville.

At 3:30 of the third, Dryden Hunt pumped a Dylan Strome rebound past Campbell, undoing what would’ve been the first home shutout of the Rangers since Johnny Bower in their 1967 Cup year.

But Campbell continues to lead the NHL in save percentage at well over .940 and in reaching 2,400 minutes as a Leaf this week holding a .928 mark, he’s now first in franchise history, Jacques Plante at .925, Bower .922.

Campbell’s true clutch stop was on Jacob Trouba with the New York net empty as the Leafs kept the heat on division-leading Florida. Toronto also is 8-0-0 leading after two periods.

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The Leafs’ mantra about getting traffic in front of hot goaltenders took on more emphasis after Igor Shesterkin made 40 saves in the first meeting of the teams, a 2-1 Rangers overtime win back in October.

Michael Bunting is more mini-van than Mack truck, but he distracted the defence and goalie enough that Rielly’s flick found the far corner. After easily killing New York’s only power play of the game, Toronto’s initial chance was going nowhere. In fact, Campbell had to stop a short-handed rush by Kevin Rooney, until Rielly struck near the end.

Maple Leafs’ Jason Spezza is denied by New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin during the first period. NICH TURCHIARO/USA TODAY SPORTS
Maple Leafs’ Jason Spezza is denied by New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin during the first period. NICH TURCHIARO/USA TODAY SPORTS

Auston Matthews, who stuck a few wheelhouse drives into Shesterkin’s chest during the evening, assisted as Rielly toe-dragged his way to the front.

It was Rielly’s third of the season after Toronto went through a long stretch with only one from its defence, coming early in the schedule from Jake Muzzin.

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Wayne Simmonds assisted on Rielly’s first and the Leafs’ fourth line had another great chance when Rooney coughed it up in front of Shesterkin, but Jason Spezza couldn’t convert. Earlier in the day, old-schooler Spezza mentioned he’d love to see two of North America’s biggest and oldest sports cities get into some meaningful hockey again.

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“That would be great,” Spezza said. “I think the league is in better shape when teams like us and the Rangers are doing well. Since we played them in October, they’ve gone on a great run, we’ve got great results.”

While it usually takes a playoff series or two to ferment such a rivalry — the teams haven’t clashed in spring for 50 years and counting — there is a growing chance of resurrecting some intensity later in 2022. Both are now in striking distance of the lead in their respective divisions.

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New York’s new coach Gerard Gallant has similar sentiments but does not think Leafs-Rangers could quite reach the hate level that the Red Wings and Leafs attained in the 1980s and early ’90s, when he played for Detroit and those two Original Six clubs and Chicago went at it eight times a year, plus pitched post-season battles.

“Those days, the rivalry used to be about six fights a game,” Gallant said of the NHL having become more genteel. “It always helps when you play a team in playoffs, but there are so many teams across the league now and we see Toronto just three times a year.

“Right now, it’s about two talented hockey teams playing well.”

Neither team made lineup changes from its last win. The Leafs play again Saturday at home against Pittsburgh.

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