Erik Kallgren posts shutout in 1st NHL start as Maple Leafs take down Stars

Erik Kallgren made 35 saves in his first NHL start as the Toronto Maple Leafs blanked the Dallas Stars 4-0 on Tuesday night.

John Tavares, with a goal and an assist, Rasmus Sandin and Ondrej Kase scored for Toronto (38-17-5). Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly added two assists each, while Ilya Mikheyev added an empty netter.

Jake Oettinger stopped 36 shots for Dallas (32-23-3).

With No. 1 option Jack Campbell out with a rib injury — he was also struggling badly before getting hurt — and a wobbly Petr Mrazek the Leafs’ only other option, Kallgren got the nod for a team that entered with an NHL-worst 88.1 save percentage at 5 on 5 since Jan. 1.

The 25-year-old rookie Swede, who made seven saves in relief of Mrazek in Thursday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes in his NHL debut, is the first Leafs goalie to record a shutout in his first NHL start since Garret Sparks on Nov. 30, 2015.

Toronto was minus NHL goal leader Auston Matthews after he was suspended two games for a cross-check to the neck of Sabres defenceman Rasmus Dahlin in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to Buffalo at the outdoor Heritage Classic in Hamilton — a contest where Mrazek was badly at fault on the winning goal.

Tuesday also marked the first NHL game featuring both Leafs rookie forward Nick Robertson and older brother Jason, who leads the Stars with 30 goals and sits second with 55 points.

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Sporting a 15-8-1 record with a .904 save percentage for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in 2021-22, Kallgren got a nice round of applause from the crowd at Scotiabank Arena following a few early stops before the Leafs took a 1-0 lead.

Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe, who was forced to alter his top-6 forward group, saw his new No. 1 line connect at 7:22 of the first when Tavares — occupying Matthews’ No. 1 centre role — and Marner found Sandin off the rush for the defenceman to score his fifth on the Leafs’ first shot.

The home side made it 2-0 at 11:16 following an offensive zone faceoff when William Nylander’s effort struck Tavares in the skate and slid past Oettinger for the Toronto captain’s 20th.

Signed to a two-year, two-way contract in May after helping Vaxjo HC win last season’s Swedish Hockey League title, Kallgren was solid the rest of the period before having to make a pair of nice on Radek Faska in the dying seconds.

Toronto, which had given up at least four goals in each of its last six games — and 10 of its past 12 — coming into Tuesday, killed off a trio of penalties in the second period, including a couple Kallgren stops of Denis Gurianov.

Oettinger then denied Leafs winger Ilya Mikheyev on a breakaway to keep the visitors within two through 40 minutes.

But Kase made it 3-0 just 52 seconds into the third on a Leafs’ power play when Rielly brought the puck down the right side before feeding the winger in the slot for him to one-time his 13th

Oettinger kept the Stars within striking distance a few minutes later with an outrageous glove save against the grain on a one-handed deflected effort from Nylander.

Dallas pushed with under nine minutes left to go in regulation, but the cool Kallgren was there at every turn to give Toronto some much-needed crease calm for a roster that provided its best defensive effort in weeks before Mikheyev sealed it.

Notes: The Leafs host former Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen and the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. Dallas visits Montreal the same night. ΓǪ Matthews, who has 45 goals in 56 games this season, is eligible to return to the Leafs’ lineup Saturday in Nashville.

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