Nazem Kadri's first career five-point game and Frederik Andersen's 54-save performance wrap up fifth straight victory for Leafs.
Mitch Marner stated the obvious when it comes to Nazem Kadri, that the Maple Leafs centre “has swagger.”
Kadri has a bit more swagger today after the first five-point night of his career, including a hat trick, propelled the Maple Leafs to a 6-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
“He’s always got that swagger to him,” said Marner. “He never lacks it. He’s a great player, and fun to play with. He’s going against the best players every night.”
Kadri, one of the more talkative Leafs, scored in each period and assisted on goals by linemates Marner and Patrick Marleau. It was his fourth career hat trick.
“Marner is special,” said Kadri. “We each have that offensive instinct. We certainly like to score. We don’t want to constantly play defence all the time. Sometimes you’re going to have to, and you’re going to have to rely on your defence to win games.
Kadri and Marner have come to life since coach Mike Babcock put them together with Marleau 10 games ago. The group has combined for 17 goals and 19 assists — seven goals and eight assists from Kadri.
“That’s when it’s the most fun, when we’re generating offensively,” said Kadri. “It’s always a thrill to score three and contribute offensively. That’s what makes the game most fun. That’s why you start playing, putting that puck in the back of the net.”
Goalie Frederik Andersen also had a career night, turning aside a career-high 54 of 57 shots, most of them when the game was on the line in the first and second periods.
“He’s been our backbone all year,” Kadri said of Andersen. “We’re going to look for him to continue that. He’s got high expectations for himself to be great, and he could certainly handle the job. He continues to impress. Down the stretch we’re going to need him.”
It’s not all rosy, though. Of particular concern was Jake Gardiner, who played six shifts (five minutes, 44 seconds) in the first period but did not return after the first intermission because of a lower-body injury described by Babcock as a “spasm he couldn’t get to relax.”
It was Toronto’s fifth win in a row, the Leafs’ second-longest streak of the season, and their ninth win in 10 outings. They’re keeping up the pressure on both Tampa and Boston in the Atlantic Division standings.
The Leafs will have Thursday off before reconvening at the MasterCard Centre on Friday to prepare for Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh.