(TORONTO) Not to be outdone by the Raptors’ home heroics, the Maple Leafs are doing their bit to make the Air Canada Centre a fortress.
Nazem Kadri scored twice Saturday night as Toronto posted a franchise-record 10th straight home victory snapping a four-game losing streak in the process with a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Toronto’s four straight losses all came on the road.
Kasperi Kapanen and Mitch Marner also scored for Toronto before Patrick Marleau added an empty-net goal with 58 seconds left after late Pittsburgh goals by Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist made things interesting for the crowd of 19,504.
Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly contributed three assists to match a career high.
Toronto had won nine in a row at home from Nov. 11 to Dec. 26, 1953, and from March 6 to April 7, 2007.
Toronto (40-22-7) last lost at the Air Canada Centre on Jan. 22 to Colorado. The high-flying Raptors, meanwhile, have lost just one of their last 12 at home where they are a league-best 28-5 this season. The Leafs are 23-8-2 at home this season.
MLS champion Toronto FC, another Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment team, lost just twice at BMO Field in 2017.
Leafs coach Mike Babcock had little to offer on the home success.
“Well you want to be real good at home and obviously you want to be real good on the road,” he said in classic Babcock-talk. “Obviously, I don’t know why, sometimes it goes better that way.”
“I don’t have all those answers,” he added. “But obviously you want to be comfortable in your building.”
Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly is just going with the flow.
“It’s great. We love playing at home,” said Rielly, who was in the ACC crowd Friday when the Raptors downed Houston 108-105 to end the Rockets’ 17-game winning streak. The Raps have won seven straight.
Washington, which blanked San Jose 2-0 earlier in the day, moved one point ahead of the Pens atop the Metropolitan Division.
Pittsburgh (39-26-4) came into the game having won three straight and nine of its last 12. The Penguins will leave thinking they deserved more.
“They got a couple of quality chances and they finished,” said coach Mike Sullivan. “They were opportunistic early in the game. I thought we had a good start, we were controlling territory, we were controlling momentum. The first couple of goals that they got, I don’t think we made them work hard for, and that’s on us. We’ve got to take ownership for that. I know our guys are capable of making it more difficult.
“There were a lot of good things that went on out there as well. We had opportunities to score. We couldn’t seem to finish tonight. We pushed at the end, but obviously a four-goal deficit is tough.”
Pittsburgh got off to a torrid start, bottling the Leafs up in their end and outshot them 6-0 in the first four minutes. It took Toronto 5 1/2 minutes to register a shot on goal and that was a clearance during a penalty kill.
The Maple Leafs, who had won 13 of 15 games before their four-game road slide, led 3-0 on nine shots midway through the contest. Three successful penalty kills against the league’s best power play helped.
It was only Toronto’s second win in six games without star centre Auston Matthews, who injured his shoulder in a 4-3 shootout victory over the Islanders on Feb. 22. The Leafs were also without defenceman Nikita Zaitsev (flu).
Kadri now has 26 goals on the season, an amazing turnaround for a player who went 0-for-December. His Jan. 4 goal against San Jose ended a 12-game scoring slump dating back to Nov. 30.
The 27-year-old centre had a career-high 32 goals in 82 games last season.
Kadri and Matthews are the first two Leaf centres to score 25 goals in consecutive seasons since Darryl Sittler and Dave Keon in 1972-1973 and 1973-1974.
Tristan Jarry, a 22-year-old from Surrey, B.C., continued in goal for Pittsburgh with No. 1 Matt Murray out with a concussion. Jarry, who had won his last three starts, gave way to Casey DeSmith, making his 10th NHL appearance, to open the third after yielding four goals on 16 shots.
Toronto workhorse Frederik Andersen appeared in his 57th game in goal this season and finished with 38 saves.
Both teams were well-rested. Toronto last played Monday in Buffalo while Pittsburgh had been off since a Wednesday win in Philadelphia.
Up 2-0 after the first period, the Leafs didn’t put a shot on net for the first 11 minutes of the second period but took advantage of a power play at 11:35. Jarry stopped Marner’s shot from the point but gave up a fat rebound that went straight to Kadri for his second.
A Brian Dumoulin goal with two minutes left in the second was waved off for goalie interference as the Pens defenceman, who was pushed into the crease by defenceman Ron Hainsey, caught Andersen’s head with his arm as he went across goal before stuffing the puck in.
“2 mins for scoring. Huh?” tweeted Dallas Stars winger Jamie Benn.
Marner scored on a deflected shot from the blue line on the ensuing power play, rubbing salt in the wound. It was his 19th of the season, matching his rookie total last year.
And instead of 3-1, it was 4-0.
The Leafs host the Stars on Wednesday.
NOTES: The stars were out Saturday. On hand were Olympic ice dance champions Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, who received a standing ovation during a first-period break, and “The Shape of Water” producer J. Miles Dale, complete with his Oscar. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield also got a warm reception … Also in attendance was four-time Olympic medallist swimmer Penny Oleksiak, who was quick to respond after hearing her brother Jamie Oleksiak, a Pittsburgh defenceman, suggest on social media she may be cheering for the Pens. #goleafsgo” she tweeted … The game was James van Riemsdyk’s 400th as a Leaf.