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'I was kind of pissed': Nylander continues hot stretch as Leafs down Flyers 5-2

TORONTO — William Nylander knew he wasn't pulling his weight. The Maple Leafs winger – an elite talent prone to frustrate one shift and produce magic the next – decided to watch video of two randomly selected games from earlier this season.
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza (19) scores on Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Martin Jones (35) during second period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday April 19, 2022 THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO — William Nylander knew he wasn't pulling his weight.

The Maple Leafs winger – an elite talent prone to frustrate one shift and produce magic the next – decided to watch video of two randomly selected games from earlier this season. 

He then dissected a pair of recent performances. 

The idea was to see where Nylander had been in the first half of the campaign. And what was needed for a return to form.

"I was kind of pissed," Nylander said. "I wanted to get back to the way I can play."

The fire that was lit continues to burn with the playoffs just over the horizon.

Nylander set a new career-high with his 32nd goal of the season and Jack Campbell made 36 saves to pick up his 30th victory Tuesday in Toronto's 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

The fourth member of the Leafs' so-called "Core Four" that also includes Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares, Nylander went eight games without a goal from late January until the middle of February.

"It was all about skating more," Nylander, who has four goals and four assists in his last five contests, said of what he saw on tape. "I put more focus onto that part of my game.

"A little bit off ... not as turned on.”

Timothy Liljegren, Jason Spezza, David Kampf and Ilya Mikheyev, into an empty net, also scored for Toronto (51-20-6). Nylander and Mikheyev each added an assist. 

The Leafs are 11-1-1 over their last 13 games, while Campbell put up a save percentage north of .930 in back-to-back starts for the first time since Jan. 1.

"He was excellent," head coach Sheldon Keefe said of his goaltender. "It was great to see."

James van Riemsdyk and Ronnie Attard replied for Philadelphia (23-43-11). Travis Konecny had two assists and Martin Jones stopped 24 shots.

"We battled hard," Jones said. "Some breakdowns cost us."

Matthews, who leads the NHL with 58 goals and is looking to become the first player since 2011-12 to reach 60 in a season, sat out a second straight game for Toronto with an undisclosed injury.

Keefe, who's had to give Nylander a boot to the backside more than once during his tenure, said the forward has impressed in recent weeks.

"He's moving his feet," said Keefe, whose team is all but assured the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Division. "Been a real difference-maker. 

"He's skating on both sides of the puck ... with Auston's absence, you need guys to step up."

The Leafs opened the scoring at 1:35 of the second period when Alexander Kerfoot chased down a loose puck in the Philadelphia zone before finding Liljegren to score his fifth of the campaign.

Campbell made big stops on Konecny and Travis Sanheim a few minutes later, but couldn't keep van Riemsdyk – who played six seasons in Toronto from 2012-2018 – at bay as he popped home his 21st at 8:07 off a scramble.

Nylander then set his personal high-water mark for goals at 13:39 when he took a cross-ice pass from Marner on a power play and fired his 32nd into the top corner.

"He's just so smooth out there," Leafs winger Colin Blackwell said. "Whenever he has the puck, he's a threat."

"Whatever he's been doing, hopefully he just keeps her going because it's fun to watch back there," Campbell added of Nylander. "Video doesn't lie. Whether it's the good ones or the bad ones, you've got look at it and learn from it." 

Toronto, which improved to 6-1-0 in seven outings without Matthews this season, pushed its lead to 3-1 with 24.8 seconds left in the period on a gorgeous passing play between three veterans. Spezza took a feed from Wayne Simmonds and then played a quick give-and-go with Mark Giordano to bury his 11th.

"Beautiful goal,” Nylander said. “I loved it."

The combined age of the three players in on the sequence – all Toronto natives – is 109 years old.

"We're here to provide leadership and also good play on the ice," Spezza said. "Us, more than anyone, feels the pride of being from Toronto and knowing what's at stake to try to bring success in the playoffs to this city."

Campbell had to be sharp on a Philadelphia power play early in the third before Kampf made it 4-1 with his 11th at 10:11 on a deflection that also hit a Flyers skate in front and trickled past Jones.

Attard scored a consolation goal for the visitors – his second of the season – on a bullet past Campbell's left ear with 2:34 left in regulation before Mikheyev sealed it with an empty-netter, his 18th goal of the campaign. 

The Leafs, who set franchise records for wins (50) and points (106) in Sunday's 4-2 home victory over the New York Islanders, open a three-game road trip Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who sit eight points back of Toronto for second in the division with a game in hand.

"We're rolling as a team," Campbell said. "And I'm right where I want to be."

Nylander probably feels the same.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2022.


Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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