TORONTO — The Wild and Maple Leafs are two of the most offensive teams in the NHL.
Their head-to-head battle on Thursday suggested otherwise.
A low-scoring, tight-checking battle broke out, and the change suited the Leafs to the tune of a 3-1 win in front of 9,410 at Scotiabank Arena that dropped the Wild to 1-2 ahead of the finale of this four-game road trip.
Toronto’s Auston Matthews erased a 1-1 tie 10 minutes, 22 seconds into the third period with his league-leading 36th goal and second of the night, a finish that persevered amid a 29-save performance by goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Alexander Kerfoot added an empty-net goal with 42 seconds to go.
For the Wild, Kaapo Kahkonen made 22 stops in suffering just his second regulation loss over his past 11 starts.
This was his first career game against Toronto, which has the fourth-best offense in the league, but Kahkonen wasn’t tested early.
He didn’t face a shot until more than halfway through the first period and finished the frame with just five saves.
At the other end, Mrazek wasn’t much busier (six stops) but the action opened up a bit more in the second.
That’s when the Wild, which ranks third in the NHL in scoring, finally ended the stalemate at 8:37 on a Frederick Gaudreau one-timer off a behind-the-net feed from linemate Matt Boldy.
Gaudreau has 10 points in his last 12 games, while Boldy has three in his past three.
Kevin Fiala also had an assist on the goal, his third helper and sixth point during a three-game point streak.
But the Wild’s lead was short-lived.
On the very next shift, Toronto answered back when Matthews scored off the rush for his 35th goal.
After that, both teams had chances on the power play to move ahead but neither team took advantage.
Actually, some of the Wild’s best looks in the period came while shorthanded including a shot in front by Connor Dewar that Mrazek kept out; credit Ryan Hartman’s tenacious effort on the PK for instigating the pressure.
Early in the third, the Wild received another power play — its fourth of the night — but still couldn’t convert; the Leafs went 0-for-2.
Kahkonen remained steady, deploying his glove to stop Matthews in tight and two shots from Rasmus Sandin while the Wild was scrambling in its own end.
That was the beginning of more consistent play in the Wild’s zone, and Toronto eventually capitalized on the shift.
After taking the puck away from Brandon Duhaime, Matthews skated into Wild territory, fed the puck to Mitch Marner and then buried the return pass to move ahead of Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl for most goals in the league.
As a result, the Wild fell to 7-2 when tied after two periods.
With around 2 minutes remaining, the team sent Kahkonen to the bench for an extra attacker and even called a timeout to strategy but still couldn’t pull even with the Leafs despite its prowess with an empty net; the Wild leads the NHL in 6-on-5 goals with 14.
This result split the season series with Toronto after the Wild won the first meeting 4-3 in overtime on Dec.4 at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild concludes this trip Saturday at Calgary, which is first in the Pacific Division and near the top of the Western Conference.
©2022 StarTribune. Visit at startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Copyright 2022 Tribune Content Agency.