The cheers coming from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ locker-room could have easily been swapped out for sighs of relief.
Nazem Kadri recorded the fifth hat trick of his career and added an assist as the Maple Leafs defeated Washington 6-3 on Wednesday night and dealt the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals their seventh straight loss.
Auston Matthews, Nikita Zaitsev and Mitch Marner also scored for Toronto. William Nylander added three assists, while Morgan Rielly and Connor Brown had two each. Frederik Andersen stopped 41 shots for the win.
“We wanted this one,” Kadri said. “We wanted to feel good about ourselves.”
The Leafs came in having lost two straight, four in a row and five of six at Scotiabank Arena, and seven of their last 10 overall.
“We’ve felt like we’ve been trending in the right direction,” Kadri added. “It’s definitely nice to play a full 60 (minutes) and beat a good team.”
Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist, and Alex Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen scored for Washington, which was playing for the third time in four nights.
Braden Holtby, who had allowed 11 goals on his last 54 shots against coming into Wednesday, finished with 31 saves. T.J. Oshie added two assists for the Capitals, who have allowed 30 goals in their last five games.
With his second-period goal, Ovechkin tied Sergei Fedorov for the top spot among Russian-born players with 1,179 career points.
“It’s a big privilege, especially when you played together and you learn a lot from that legend,” Ovechkin said. “I’m pretty sure Fed is very happy it’s me.”
Matthews, who had gone seven straight games without a goal and had just one in his last 13 contests, snapped a 2-2 tie with 3:41 left in the second when he netted his 21st of the season through Holtby’s pads on a Toronto power play.
The goal was a relief for Matthews and for the Leafs’ power play, which had gone just 6 for 52 since early December. John Tavares was denied at the side of the net seconds before Matthews broke through.
Kadri made it 4-2 with his second of the game at 2:10 of the third, blasting a shot off the rush past Holtby’s blocker.
The Toronto center then completed the hat trick at 10:15. Nylander carried the puck into the Washington zone before dropping it to Brown, whose shot went off the crossbar and post before ricocheting to Kadri, who deposited the puck into an open net.
The Capitals got one back with 2:46 to play when Niskanen’s shot went in off a Toronto player in front. Marner scored his 20th into an empty net with 32.6 seconds left.
Washington, which came in on a 0-4-2 run, including Sunday’s 8-6 loss in Chicago and Tuesday’s 7-6 overtime defeat at home to San Jose, has now given up 21 goals in its last three games.
Kadri is also the third straight member of the opposition to record a hat trick against the Capitals after Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl.
“We can’t give up that number of goals,” said head coach Todd Reirden, whose team has eight days to contemplate its latest setback. “We’ve got to figure out a way to keep the puck out of our net.”
Tied 1-1 after the first, the Capitals pushed ahead at 3:51 when Ovechkin blasted a shot from the top of the right face-off circle past Andersen’s blocker for his 37th goal of the season and the record-tying point.
Ovechkin leads all active players with 38 goals against Toronto in his career, despite ranking 11th in games played at 47.
“Sometimes you feel like the puck is a basketball, but on that shot it was more like a golf ball,” said Andersen, who made a couple of big stops early and was solid throughout. “He’s got a heavy shot and placed it really well.”
Toronto turned in a couple of spirited shifts before Zaitsev took a pass from Nylander in the slot and scored his first of the season and first in 53 games dating to March 30, 2018.
Nylander, who has just one goal in 21 games since ending his contract impasse, played his best game of the season so far. That included a nice back-check on Ovechkin earlier in the shift before taking a hit and setting up Zaitsev.
Backstrom opened the scoring on a power play with 1:13 left in the first when he took advantage of some soft defending from Zaitsev in front to tap home his 13th.
Toronto got that one right back with 26 seconds remaining in the period when Rielly and Nylander pressured the puck behind the Washington net before it squirted in front. Holtby tried to cover the puck with his glove in the crease, but Kadri was quickest to the mark and poked it over the line.
The Capitals got a scare earlier in the period when Ovechkin collided with Oshie near center ice. Ovechkin stayed down for a few moments before leaving the bench as part of the NHL’s concussion protocol. He returned in time to be on the ice for Backstrom’s goal.
NOTES: Fedorov played 1,248 regular-season games. Wednesday was the 1,053rd appearance of Ovechkin’s career. … Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik (rest) got the night off. … Both the Leafs and Capitals don’t play again until Feb. 1 because of the NHL All-Star break and their league-mandated bye week. … Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner missed a second straight game with back spasms.
Capitals: Home against Calgary on Feb. 1.
Maple Leafs: At Detroit on Feb. 1
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