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Leafs spoil Nathan MacKinnon’s return, down Avalanche

Dec 31, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche left wing Artturi Lehkonen (62) shoots the puck against Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Matt Murray (30) in the first period at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Bunting scored two goals, Auston Matthews had a goal and an assist and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-2 in Denver on Saturday night.

Pierre Engvall, Mitch Marner and TJ Brodie also scored, while William Nylander and John Tavares had two assists apiece for Toronto. Matt Murray turned away 26 shots for the Leafs, who spoiled the return of Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon.

J.T. Compher had a goal and an assist for the Avalanche, Devon Toews also scored and Alexandar Georgiev had 19 saves before being replaced by Jonas Johansson. Johansson saved all seven shots he faced.

MacKinnon missed 11 games with an upper-body injury.

The Maple Leafs spoiled his return with two quick goals in the first period. Marner got the first one when his shot to the far side beat Georgiev at 6:51.

It was his 14th of the season.

Engvall made it 2-0 when David Kampf passed it to him as he was tripped by Brad Hunt, and Engvall’s one-timer beat Georgiev at 9:27. It was his seventh of the season.

Colorado got one back late in the first period. Logan O’Connor passed to Compher as he got to the Toronto blue line, Compher glided across the slot and sent a snap shot by Murray to make it 2-1 at 17:28.

It was his seventh goal of the season.

The Maple Leafs went on the power play eight seconds into the second period and capitalized on it when Bunting tapped in Tavares’ pass to the top crease at 34 seconds.

The Avalanche answered at 9:45 of the second when Toews’ soft shot attempt went off the skate of Matthews and in to make it 3-2. It was his third marker of the season.

Toronto responded with two goals in 24 seconds to expand its lead. Matthews made it 4-2 with his 18th goal at the 15-minute mark and Brodie made it a three-goal game with a shot from along the boards at the left circle.

It was Brodie’s second of the season and ended Georgiev’s night.

Bunting added an empty-net goal at 16:11 of the third, his 11th of the season.

–Field Level Media