By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — John Tavares liked how the Toronto Maple Leafs stuck up for each other and kept their cool in a physical 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
With just under four minutes left in the second period and Toronto holding a 2-1 lead, Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey laid a hit on Leafs forward Nick Robertson. It sparked Leafs blueliner Morgan Rielly to come to his defence and tangle with Morrissey.
“Obviously, it speaks a lot of (Rielly’s) character. Not surprising,” Tavares said. “He carried himself forward for our group.
“And then after that we just stayed calm and composed as the temperature of the game really went up there. Scrums were frequent, but we were there standing up for one another and protecting our net.”
Tavares scored two power-play goals, one in the first period and one late in the second that made it 3-1.
Auston Matthews contributed three assists and David Kampf and Michael Bunting also had goals for the Leafs, who were kicking off a five-game NHL road trip.
“In the moment it didn’t look clean so that was all,” Rielly said of his reason for fighting with Morrissey.
Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe didn’t mind Rielly’s reaction.
“You know our sport calls for different things at different times, and sometimes you need players to step out of character a little bit,” Keefe said.
Ilya Samsonov made 31 saves for Toronto (4-2-0), giving him victories in all four starts he’s made this season.
Pierre-Luc Dubois scored for the Jets (2-3-0) in front of a sellout crowd of 15,325 fans at Canada Life Centre, many clad in Leafs jerseys. It was Winnipeg’s first sellout since March 9, 2020.
Connor Hellebuyck stopped 24 shots for Winnipeg.
“You could hear it from before the national anthem even, tonight, you know, the battle of the Leafs and Jets chants,” Morrissey said. “It’s always a fun atmosphere. I think that intensity just ramps the intensity up in the game.”
New Jets head coach Rick Bowness recorded a loss in his season debut behind the bench. He missed the team’s first four games after testing positive for COVID-19.
“The difference in the game was clearly specialty teams,” Bowness said. “We hit a couple of goalposts. And theirs went in.”
The Leafs finished 2-for-3 on the power play and the Jets were 0-for-3.
Dubois got Winnipeg on the scoreboard first when he took a cross-ice pass from Cole Perfetti, fired a shot and then went to the net and put in his own rebound at 4:17 of the first period.
Tavares made it 1-1 with 10 seconds remaining in a Toronto power play, sending a shot into the top corner on Hellebuyck’s blocker side at 9:56.
The Leafs had a power play with three minutes remaining in the period that was notable for a hit on Mitch Marner.
Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo checked Marner from behind into the corner boards and he smacked his head. He got up slowly and went to the Toronto bench. He didn’t play the rest of the period, but returned for the second.
Kampf’s tiebreaking goal from the slot at 14:34 of the second period was set up by a nifty pass from Wayne Simmonds, who sent the puck back through his legs to Kampf.
Simmonds and Kyle Clifford, who picked up an assist for getting the puck to Simmonds, were making their season debuts with the Leafs on the fourth line with Kampf.
“I just grabbed (the puck) and tried to throw it there as quick as possible and Kampfer just had a great shot,” Simmonds said.
The second period wound down with some fights, including one that led to another Toronto power play and Tavares’ second goal, a tip of a Matthews’ shot with 1:05 remaining.
Bunting ended the scoring with a backhand shot into an empty net with 2:37 left.
ON A ROLL
Leafs forward William Nylander extended his point streak to four games, adding an assist to give him two goals and a pair of assists during that span.
The Jets were without top-line winger Nikolaj Ehlers (lower body), who was put on injured reserve Friday, retroactive to Oct. 18.
Ehlers is expected to also miss Monday’s home game against St. Louis. He was replaced by Mason Appleton.
Jets: Host St. Louis Blues on Monday.
Leafs: At Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.