The Toronto Maple Leafs enter Sunday’s visit to the Chicago Blackhawks with three wins in their past four games.
That one of the victories during that span came against the Blackhawks adds fuel to Toronto’s confidence, which surged Saturday in multiple ways.
A run of five unanswered goals steered the Maple Leafs to their 5-1 rout of visiting Montreal. Michael Bunting scored twice and Rasmus Sandin had two assists, but Toronto was especially steeled by an assist from newcomer Ryan O’Reilly, who made his team debut after being acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues late Friday.
“It’s like going into cold water; I think it’s better just to jump head first into it,” O’Reilly said. “I’m glad it worked out. Big win for us. It’s a very good team, and I’m very excited to be a part of it.”
O’Reilly, the Conn Smythe winner with St. Louis in 2019 when the club won its first Stanley Cup, is no stranger to facing the Blackhawks. He tallied a goal and assist against in Chicago on Nov. 16.
The Blackhawks salvaged one victory from their four-game Canadian road trip by rallying for a 4-3 overtime victory against the Ottawa Senators on Friday night.
After falling behind 3-1 less than five minutes into the second period, the Chicago closed the night by scoring three unanswered goals. Andreas Athanasiou netted the game-winner at 2:52 of overtime.
“I think we just stuck with it, stuck with it together,” Athanasiou said. “We kind of just chipped away and didn’t try to make any crazy plays. We just kind of put our nose down, didn’t say much and just worked and found a way.”
Patrick Kane scored twice to reach 1,217 career points, giving him sole possession of third place among U.S.-born players, one point greater than Jeremy Roenick.
“You get that guy the puck in a prime scoring position, there’s a good chance it’s going in,” Athanasiou said of Kane. “He had a couple good chances tonight and both of them went in. Obviously when your best player’s on fire like that in the game, it’s a good feeling.”
Toronto will aim to sweep the season series from Chicago.
The host Maple Leafs rolled past the Blackhawks 5-2 on Wednesday behind a goal and two assists from William Nylander. Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Sandin each added a goal and an assist, and Ilya Samsonov made 27 saves.
After accumulating a 12-game point streak against their Original Six brethren, the Blackhawks have lost the past two games against the Maple Leafs, both in Toronto.
The Maple Leafs will carry a different look against the Blackhawks than they had less than a week ago. Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe touts the added depth O’Reilly gives the club at center.
We already have versatile guys in our lineup so we can try different things, and have enough time now to try different things and a little time left to the (March 3 trade) deadline to get to know the players, how they fit in and how it impacts the rest of the group,” he said.
–Field Level Media