The Canadian Press
TORONTO–The Maple Leafs talked ahead of last night’s game about how matching a reeling opponent’s desperation level would be crucial.
They didn’t come close.
Carl Soderberg scored his second goal of the night with 8:15 left in the third period to snap a 3-3 tie before adding another into an empty net to complete his first-career hat trick as the Colorado Avalanche doubled sloppy, disinterested Toronto 6-3.
“We’ve only got ourselves to blame,” Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock said.
“This is not good enough.”
Toronto, which sits just one point up on the Boston Bruins for second in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand, now has lost five of its last seven and four-of-five at home.
“Everyone is getting better and we’ve hit a lull,” Babcock said. “We’ve got to get turned.”
Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and Matt Calvert (empty net) had the other goals for Colorado (21-17-8), which had lost nine of its last 10 overall (1-7-2) and seven-straight in regulation on the road.
Semyon Varlamov stopped 17 shots for the Avalanche.
“We were going tonight,” Soderberg said. “I’m glad we could get a win.”
Colorado’s top line of Rantanen, Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon now have an eye-popping 187 points on the season.
“Everybody did their job,” Landeskog said. “Good overall team victory.”
Igor Ozhiganov, Kasperi Kapanen, and Mitch Marner replied for Toronto (28-15-2). Auston Matthews added two assists.
Frederik Andersen made 32 saves in his return to the starting lineup after eight games on the sidelines with a groin injury.
Leafs’ defenceman Jake Gardiner–the target of varying degrees of fan angst during his eight seasons in Toronto–was booed by a portion of the crowd inside a frustrated Scotiabank Arena after a mistake late in a second-period power play led to Soderberg’s first of the night.
“Hasn’t happened before, that’s for sure,” said an emotional Gardiner. “Not something you want to hear but plays happen in the game . . . fans are passionate and they want to win.”
Marner said he didn’t hear the jeers but was disappointed when asked for his reaction.
“[The] guy does everything for this team,” he stressed. “People don’t give him enough credit, ever. He makes a lot of stuff happen.
“That guy means a lot to this team.”
Soderberg broke that 3-3 tie midway through the third when he fired his 14th of the season past Andersen off a pass from J.T. Compher after Colin Wilson won a battle behind the net.
Toronto, which went 4-4-0 without Andersen, pulled the goalie with just under three minutes to go but Calvert beat Matthews to a loose puck in the Colorado zone and banked in his seventh with 2:51 left.
Soderberg completed the hat trick into another empty net at 18:12.
“We just didn’t win enough races, enough puck battles,” Leafs’ centre John Tavares said.
“It starts with guys like myself. We have to do a better job consistently,” he stressed.
Down 3-2 after two periods, Marner tied the game six minutes into the third when he took a stretch pass from Travis Dermott and ripped his 18th past Varlamov’s glove to briefly give the Leafs some life.
“I don’t think we played a good game tonight at all,” Marner admitted. “We didn’t come ready to work. They did.”
After a scoreless first, where Toronto had a number of chances to push ahead, the floodgates opened in a middle period that featured five goals and another that was disallowed.
Ozhiganov scored his third at 2:14 when the blueliner’s snapshot from the point through a screen fooled Varlamov.
Leafs’ winger Par Lindholm appeared to score his second of the year and first in 39 games at 3:32, but the goal was called back when Colorado challenged for offside.
Toronto went right back on the attack and scored just 11 seconds after play resumed when Kapanen ended a seven-game drought with his 15th.
Landeskog tipped home his 28th to make it 2-1 at 6:33 off a point shot from Tyson Barrie, who ended the night hitting two posts.
Andersen did well to stop MacKinnon on a partial breakaway and Wilson’s quick backhand, but could do nothing when Rantanen stripped Nazem Kadri in the Toronto end and roofed his 21st at 9:56.
Soderberg then made it 3-2 with 5:31 left in the second when he outmuscled Gardiner for the puck with Colorado down a man before firing past Andersen’s blocker from in tight.
Gardiner, who perhaps unfairly shouldered the blame for Toronto’s loss in Game 7 to the Bruins in the first round of last season’s playoffs, and defence partner Nikita Zaitsev also were responsible for two gaffes leading to goals against in the second period of Saturday’s 3-2 defeat to Boston.
“Not playing well,” Gardiner said. “Need to be better.”
That goes for most of the Leafs.
Elsewhere in the NHL, Edmonton dumped Buffalo 7-2, Montreal edged Boston 3-2 (OT), Philadelphia beat Minnesota 7-4, New Jersey topped Chicago 8-5, and St. Louis downed Washington 4-1.