Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) is congratulated by teammates Mitchell Marner (16) and Morgan Rielly (44) after scoring the game winning goal during overtime NHL action against the Winnipeg Jets in Toronto. (The Canadian Press)

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) is congratulated by teammates Mitchell Marner (16) and Morgan Rielly (44) after scoring the game winning goal during overtime NHL action against the Winnipeg Jets in Toronto. (The Canadian Press)

Auston Matthews scores in overtime as Leafs beat Jets to halt three-game slide

Auston Matthews scores in overtime as Leafs beat Jets to halt three-game slide

Toronto 4 Winnipeg 3 (OT)

TORONTO — Auston Matthews clearly isn’t at 100 per cent.

Bothered by a troublesome injury to his right wrist and hand, the Maple Leafs’ best player has missed three games this season, doesn’t have the usual ferocious shot, and sat out practice earlier this week.

Whatever pain he’s feeling, it hasn’t stopped him producing moments of brilliance.

Matthews scored his league-leading 21st goal of the campaign 59 seconds into overtime Thursday as Toronto defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-3 to snap a three-game losing streak.

At the end of a long, frantic shift to start an extra period where the Leafs were scrambling to hold on after Morgan Rielly broke his stick, Matthews took a pass from the defenceman heading the other way before selling shot and roofing a backhand on the stellar Connor Hellebuyck.

“Elite talent,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He’s a star. That’s what they do.”

“Just an incredible goal,” Toronto captain John Tavares added. “An incredible set of hands he’s got.

“Special player made a special play.”

Like the other five skaters on the ice in overtime, Matthews’ legs felt heavy as he moved in on Hellebuyck.

“There was a lot of chaos … it happened so fast,” said the 23-year-old, who also added an assist. “We’d been out there for a while, they’d been out there for a while.”

Mitch Marner, with a goal and an assist, William Nylander and Ilya Mikheyev scored in regulation for Toronto (19-7-2), while Frederik Andersen made 23 saves for the North Division leaders.

Nikolaj Ehlers, with two goals and an assist, and Paul Stastny replied for Winnipeg (16-8-2), which got 33 stops from Hellebuyck two nights after beating Toronto by the same score ahead of Saturday’s finale of this three-game series.

“We did some good things and we have some things to improve on,” said the Jets goaltender and reigning Vezina Trophy winner. “I stole a lot of goals tonight.

“I’m happy with my performance and I’m just looking forward to the next one.”

Mikheyev broke a 2-2 tie at 12:39 of the third period with his fourth, but the Jets got back even with the extra attacker on when Stastny redirected his eighth home from the slot with 2:26 remaining in regulation.

Joe Thornton had a chance to win it for Toronto with just over a minute left, but Hellebuyck robbed him with the glove before Matthews’ heroics halted the Leafs’ losing streak.

“It’s a big win,” Marner said. “We didn’t want to let it keep sliding.”

Trailing 2-1 despite playing two pretty good periods, the Leafs finally got even at 6:31 of the third when Nylander, who had been denied on three terrific chances by Hellebuyck, fired in his 11th after a great individual effort from Tavares.

“We have a lot of belief in our group,” Tavares said of how the Leafs avoided frustration staring down a goalie thwarting them at nearly every turn. “We know the type of talent, the type of team we have.

“It’s a 60-minute game for a reason. You keep competing to the end.”

Looking for a spark down 1-0 through 20 minutes, Keefe mixed up his lines, including shifting Zach Hyman to the top trio with Marner and Matthews.

That move paid off almost immediately as a grinding shift in the offensive zone with Hyman playing catalyst eventually produced a tap-in for Marner’s 11th after T.J. Brodie’s point shot that found its way through a maze of players.

Hellebuyck then robbed Hyman on a breakaway move to the backhand a few minutes later with the Leafs buzzing.

“He’s been lights out,” Matthews said of Hyman’s recent play. “You know what to expect from him every night. He’s extremely easy to play with because you just know he’s going to get in there and battle.”

The visitors, however, restored their lead at 10:50 after Leafs defenceman Justin Holl got caught up ice in the offensive zone.

NHL

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