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If it was a statement game, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a strong case for the title of Canada’s best team Wednesday night.
And they did it with ruthless efficiency, containing and frustrating Winnipeg’s offensive stars while forcing the Winnipeg Jets to chase them in the defensive zone for much of the opening 40 minutes.
The Leafs, cheered on by a noisy fan contingent at Bell MTS Place, cruised to a 3-0 lead midway through the second period on goals by Kasperi Kapanen, Tyler Ennis and Nazem Kadri and held off a late Jets’ push to post a 4-2 victory.
Toronto is now 7-3-0 while the Jets fell to 6-3-1.
“Our structure was good,” said Kadri, whose goal was his first of the season. “We didn’t give them too much time. We were able to be in the right places at the right time.
“Especially breaking through the neutral zone and on the defensive side of things, we were able to stay above guys and not give them too much momentum to generate speed entering the offensive zone. I think that was really the difference tonight.”
Toronto’s John Tavares, with his fifth of the season, added a huge insurance marker at 8:28 of the third period to put the damper on Winnipeg’s hopes of a comeback.
“I thought we did a really good job of recovering a lot of pucks,” said Tavares, who has seven goals and 12 points in 10 games. “When we had to retrieve it, we worked hard to put pressure on them, getting above them and causing some turnovers, make them have to rush a lot of plays coming up the ice and in their own zone.
“It gave us time and space to get it and make some plays and get it on net. It was definitely nice to get rewarded.”
Playing the simple, prescribed team game was crucial as Toronto snapped a two-game losing streak.
“That’s part of the structure — guys being in the right places at the right time,” said Kadri. “Being able to understand and sort out who your guy is in the defensive zone. They like to run a lot of those pop plays where they’re getting Grade A scoring chances from the top of the circle or the slot area. Just a lot of communication and we were able to sort things out well.”
The Leafs made the Jets look slow at times.
“It’s real simple for us,” said Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. “If you want to play right and you want to play hard, suddenly you look fast again.”
After a brief lapse in third, the visitors regained their composure.
“I think we got on our toes again and made sure we were playing them and not letting them play us,” said winger Mitch Marner, whose initial shot created the rebound that led to Tavares’s goal.
“We wanted to play their D hard and, I think, kinda got away from that in the first 10 minutes of the third. After that we got back to what we wanted to do.”
The Jets will travel to Detroit for a Friday night date with the Red Wings before a Saturday rematch with the Leafs in Toronto.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.