Woll stands tall again as undermanned Maple Leafs defence dims the Stars

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Living off the road is paying off for the Maple Leafs.

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The club handed the unbeaten-in-regulation Dallas Stars a 4-1 loss in their own corral on Tuesday night, Toronto’s third straight win with one to go on this five-game trip. With another big effort from young goalie Joseph Woll, who made 30 saves with just five defencemen in front of him, the Leafs had goals on the power play, at 4-on-4 and at 5-on-5.

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During a four-minute minor to Jani Hakanpaa, the Leafs added third period insurance for their first three-win streak in October since 2018. A diving stick save by Matthew Knies at the line allowed Morgan Rielly to deliver a tip-friendly feed to Tyler Bertuzzi. It ruined Dallas’s previously unsullied penalty kill as well. John Tavares had an empty net goal.

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The Leafs had to play all but the first 10 seconds of the match without Jake McCabe, who appeared to pull a muscle in a race to preserve an icing call. He was listed by the club as “questionable” to return during the game, which is a good sign, but if out any extended time the Leafs will need to activate Simon Benoit from the Marlies. That would necessitate idle junior Fraser Minten’s return to the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers for the Leafs to stay under the cap.

Timothy Liljegren took a painful shot off of his leg that could’ve put the Leafs down to four blue-liners.

To the Leafs’ credit, they didn’t sit back against the 4-0-1 Stars and their speed caught Dallas off-guard a few times in the first period.

Their one flub in the first, a broken breakout between ex-Star John Klingberg and Liljegren, was bailed out by Woll, who got the tip of his stick across the crease to foil Thomas Harley.

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Woll was even better in the second when TJ Brodie was knocked off the puck to his left and Jason Robertson came across the crease waiting for Woll to open. But the 6-foot-3 rookie stayed with him all the way, flaring his legs to groin-stretching limits and taking away the bottom corner from Robertson. Another big save came on Roope Hintz — a third-period breakaway on a botched Toronto line change.

Head coach Sheldon Keefe was full of praise for Woll’s poise and athleticism before the game in rewarding him with back-to-back starts after he rescued a win in Tampa Bay and stopped 36 pucks in Washington. Ilya Samsonov is scheduled to finish the trek on Saturday in Nashville.

“You don’t see him wavering,” Keefe said of Woll on TSN. “(His demeanour) is no different than when he’s not starting. He looks like a true professional, controlling what he can control.”

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It was only when Toronto’s fourth line of Pontus Holmberg, Ryan Reaves and Noah Gregor was out too long that the Stars clicked on an odd-man rush, finished by ex-Leaf Mason Marchment.

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The Leafs got that back before the period ended, the Stars mishandling a dump-in that Auston Matthews quickly fed to Mitch Marner. That hard-to-attain even-strength goal for the two also represented Marner’s 560th career point, tying him for ninth in franchise history with Teeder Kennedy.

Marner has tried to stay patient with his slow offensive start, less so for Matthews who opened the schedule with back-to-back hat tricks.

“We talk about being a line that wants to be consistent,” Marner said between periods. “Keep doing things right and good things will come.”

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At 4-on-4, Rielly opened the scoring with his second in as many games. It was a fierce forecheck generated by William Nylander, who came out from behind the net and drew attention away from a pinching Rielly.

For Nylander and Tavares, it’s a point in all seven games so far, tied for the second best start ever by a Leaf, while Rielly has had at least a point in 10 straight against Dallas.

Klingberg made a couple of defensive gems against his old team, where his first eight years of production made him the third highest scorer among Dallas defencemen.

In a pre-game ceremony, Dallas warhorse Joe Pavelski was honoured for reaching 1,000 NHL points at the end of last season. The 39-year-old forward and 40-year-old Toronto defender Mark Giordano are the league’s oldest players.

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