TORONTO – Sheldon Keefe wasn’t around to see the conclusion of his team’s win streak.

The Maple Leafs head coach was ejected in the dying minutes of Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights — a result that snapped Toronto’s run of seven consecutive victories.

Keefe declined to explain what happened with 2:14 left in regulation and the result basically decided during his post-game press conference.

Asked a followup question about where the exchange ranked in terms of what he’s said to officials in the past, he replied: “Not going there, not going there.”

Keefe was clearly annoyed by a tripping penalty assessed to Toronto winger Mitch Marner on Vegas forward Chandler Stephenson with 4:53 remaining in the third period after the Leafs cut the deficit to 4-2.

“The whole arena saw it on the Jumbotron,” Leafs forward Tyler Bertuzzi said of the replay. “(Marner) didn’t touch him and (Stephenson) kind of just toe-picked on his own.”

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“We’ve got momentum on our side,” Keefe added. “That’s a tough spot in the game.”

William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault each had a goal and an assist for Vegas (33-19-7), while Ivan Barbashev, Mason Morelli, Nicolas Roy and Alex Pietrangelo, into an empty net, also scored. Adin Hill made 28 saves and Shea Theodore had three assists.

Minus injured captain Mark Stone and star centre Jack Eichel, the Knights ended a three-game slide of their own that included Thursday’s ugly 7-3 home loss to the Leafs.

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“The leaders and the guys who’ve been in the league for a while now, we’ve all got to step up,” Barbashev said. “Hopefully today was a turnaround for us.”


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Bertuzzi and Ryan Reaves had the goals for Toronto (33-17-8), which saw its longest winning streak since 2003 come to a screeching halt. Ilya Samsonov stopped 26 shots.

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“Brought their game to a different level,” Leafs captain John Tavares said of Vegas. “We just made too many mistakes and just didn’t earn enough opportunities.”

Sporting a 1-4-1 record over their last six heading into Scotiabank Arena — including Saturday’s 4-3 shootout defeat in Ottawa — the defending Stanley Cup champions opened the scoring at 9:11 of the second.

Barbashev blew the defensive zone and took a stretch pass before beating Samsonov with a nice move for his 14th goal of the season.

“I don’t think we expected him to keep going,” Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “But it’s on us, it’s on me, to be aware of that, and adjust.”

Morelli, a 28-year-old playing just his fifth NHL game, then tipped a point shot for his second career goal at 12:20.

“Same team, same guys … I guess those guys more wanna win today,” said a frustrated Samsonov. “Those guys come to the net — good screen, good tip-in, rebounds. That what’s different.”

Hill stood tall on Toronto’s only power play later in the period, including a chance off the stick of 52-goal man Auston Matthews.

But Bertuzzi, who had a hat trick in Saturday’s 4-3 victory over Colorado to put a bow on a perfect five-game road trip, fooled the netminder at 17:45 through the pads for his 11th.

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Vegas got that one back with 48.8 seconds remaining in the second when Karlsson took advantage of a Tavares turnover to bury his 20th.

Toronto, which scored 38 times during its streak, tried to push in the third, but fell behind 4-1 when Karlsson hit both posts and Marchessault jumped on the loose puck to give him his 31st goal of the campaign at 10:50.

Reaves got a consolation effort — his third — with 5:25 left in regulation.

Keefe was sent to the locker room by officials after the Leafs killed off the Marner infraction.

“Power plays are four to one in the game — that’s a factor,” Keefe said. “That’s not on the officials. That’s part of the way the game goes.”

Pietrangelo scored his fourth into the empty net and Roy added his 11th with Samsonov back in goal for the 6-2 final.

“We obviously have been playing some good hockey, put a really good stretch together,” Tavares said. “We want to get right back at it.

“Regroup here and get excited about our next challenge.”

WOUNDED KNIGHTS

Stone is out week-to-week with an upper-body injury suffered last Wednesday, while Eichel (knee) skated with his teammates Tuesday for the first time since getting hurt Jan. 11.

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LILJEGREN OUT, GIODANO RETURNS

Leafs defenceman Timothy Liljegren sat out with an undisclosed injury. His spot was occupied by veteran Mark Giordano as Toronto dressed six left-shot blueliners. The 40-year-old suited up for the first time since the sudden death of his father, Paul, on Feb. 15.

UP NEXT

The Leafs host Arizona on Thursday, while Vegas is at Boston.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2024.

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