Costly mistakes add up as Maple Leafs’ red-hot winning streak comes to an end

Jonathan Marchessault led the way on offence with two goals and an assist and Adin Hill dominated in net with 29 saves as the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-2 to snap their seven-game winning streak.

TORONTO — Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe loved the way his team began its pursuit of an eighth straight win. By the end of the contest, he was being directed by the officials to leave the bench.

And even if the referees may have had a misstep along the way, the Leafs made far too many mistakes themselves to expect another “W” — especially against a Vegas Golden Knights team that are the defending Stanley Cup champions for a reason.

The Leafs were downed 6-2 at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday night, as Vegas returned the favour on Toronto after the Buds had beaten them 7-3 in the desert five days ago.

That win was part of a seven-game run that had this Toronto squad trying to become just the sixth outfit in Leafs history to win at least eight straight contests.

The way the Buds came out of the gate, it sure seemed possible they were going to keep the good times going and defeat a Vegas squad playing without stud forwards Jack Eichel and Mark Stone for the second time in less than a week. But when the Leafs weren’t rewarded for their early pressure, the tide began to turn.

“Loved our start,” Keefe said. “In fact, I thought it was our best start of the season. I thought it was better than any start we had on the road [where they just posted four consecutive wins]. We were really going, guys were flying, puck was moving well, our pace was outstanding, we had great scoring chances.

“The puck didn’t fall for us and because it was going so well, I thought we started to overdo it, I thought we got too comfortable in the game. You can’t get comfortable against this team, they’re just too good defensively.”

Indeed, the game was a bit of a defensive battle for nearly half the contest, with Ilya Samsonov in the Leafs’ crease and Adin Hill in the Knights’ net both making some key saves.

The damn broke on a bit of an odd play, as the Leafs actually won an offensive zone faceoff, but got caught flat-footed when Vegas winger Ivan Barbashev still decided to float toward the neutral zone. When Michael Amadio recovered the puck for Vegas, he wired a long breakaway feed to Barbashev, who was already at the red line. With nobody in blue even close to his back, the Russian went in and deked to his forehand, squeezing the puck between Samsonov’s blocker and pad.

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Morgan Rielly was on the blue line when the play occurred and while he noted it was odd to see an opponent break structure like that after his team had lost the draw, the Leafs were still responsible for marking a guy who just soared up the middle.

“It’s on us — it’s on me — to be aware of that and adjust when that happens,” he said.

A little more than three minutes later, Vegas went up 2-0 when Mason Morelli tipped home his second goal in just his fifth career NHL contest.

Still, it seemed like the Leafs were going to have a great chance to push for a win in the third when Tyler Bertuzzi, fresh off a hat trick on Saturday night in Denver, found the net again with just over two minutes to go in the middle frame to cut the Vegas lead to one.

Any momentum that was gained off of that, though, went up in smoke on William Karlsson’s tally with 51 seconds left in the stanza. Toronto captain John Tavares was guilty of an own-zone turnover when he tried to rim a puck up to Mitch Marner from behind the goal line. Instead of finding his teammate, the puck was intercepted by Jonathan Marchessault, slid to the slot and quickly rifled home by Karlsson.

“I was just trying to feel the pressure,” Tavares said. “I was on my backhand and I had the sense that Mitchy was up on the wall and I just wanted to go up the wall and get it to him. Their guy kind of held his ice — I thought he was kind of retreating back inside — and obviously, I’d like to have it back.”

In general, Tavares thought Toronto faced a Vegas team that played more to its identity as a stifling unit than the one the Leafs hung seven goals on just a short time ago.

“It’s a challenge when you play a team really close in the schedule like that, especially a team that is currently defending champions,” he said “You play them well [in the win] and you do a lot of good things and certainly they probably weren’t happy with their game [in Vegas] and they were going to look to respond and defend really well. They presented [a higher] challenge and brought their game to a different level and we just made too many mistakes.”

Even so, Toronto was riding a bit of momentum late in the contest after Ryan Reaves had tallied against his old team to make it a 4-2 Vegas lead.

With the Leafs pressing for another goal, Marner was whistled in the offensive for a tripping call on Chandler Stephenson with 4:53 left on the clock. Marner was immediately unhappy with the call and replays showed his anger was likely not without merit. Meanwhile, Keefe steamed on the bench, never completely blowing his stack, but also letting a few words fly. Finally, after the Leafs had actually killed the penalty, Keefe got the boot from referee Garrett Rank during a stoppage in play.

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Vegas went on to pot an empty-net goal and one more from Nicolas Roy with 31 seconds left in the third.

“I don’t even think he said a whole lot, but I’ll let him explain on that one,” Tavares said after the game when asked about the unique sight of Keefe being heaved from a game. “We just didn’t like the call, especially in a tight hockey game. We didn’t think there was much there. If anything at all.”

Keefe, of course, was given an opportunity to present his view on things after the game but opted for the high road.

“Not going there,” he said when asked about the specifics of the exchange.

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Where Toronto does hope to go, naturally, is on another winning streak and the schedule certainly plays in its favour. The Leafs have four more contests to go on this homestand, beginning on Thursday with an Arizona Coyotes team that has dropped 13 straight games.

“We’ve obviously been playing some good hockey,” Tavares said. “[We] put a really good stretch together and we want to get right back at it. Obviously disappointed tonight, so regroup here and get excited about our next challenge and getting back to the way we’ve been playing and continue to push for more.”

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