After a difficult couple of weeks where the team's goaltending had been called into question, Jack Campbell answered the bell and delivered some big saves when he needed in a 5-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Tuesday.
"Over the last couple of weeks I've learned that being too hard on myself isn't necessarily the best thing and you just kind of let it go," Campbell said after his 34-save performance. "Tonight, I just battled and I thought the guys battled in front of me."
Early on, Campbell's teammates spotted the goaltender a 2-0 lead just 1:18 into the game. Auston Matthews scored his NHL-leading 34th goal of the season, followed by Wayne Simmonds' first goal in eight games.
But the lead quickly erased after a pair of defensive breakdowns led to goals from Mark Scheifele and Andrew Copp.
Campbell couldn't be faulted for the goals as he didn't have much of a chance on either of the Jets opportunities.
After Jason Spezza put the Leafs back on top 3-2 at 11:59 of the opening frame, Campbell settled in.
Unlike Toronto's previous five games, the Leafs didn't dominate in scoring chances, slot shots or any other analytics. The Jets, who entered the game just four points back of Toronto for top spot in the North Division, proved to be a worthy adversary.
The two teams found themselves tied in the shot totals and scoring chances in the opening frame. Both teams notched a goal in the second period. Mitch Marner scored his 15th of the season at 12:58 before Kyle Connor responded for the Jets with his 22nd of the year at 17:56.
Connor's goal was a quick blast from the point that was partially screened by Alex Galchenyuk.
"We had a two goal lead (and) I hated the fact that we made it a one-goal lead going into the third," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. "We had to turn the light bulbs on there for the third period and make sure we took care of this one."
That's where Campbell went to work.
First, there was a breakaway save on Winnipeg's Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Campbell read the play throughout before managing to get a piece of his glove on the puck.
There was the sharp-angle save from Connor's shot. Notice the lack of a rebound.
Rebound control was the trademark of Campbell's 11-0 to start the year.
Finally, there was his glove save during the 6-on-5 late in the third period.
"He played a hell of a game," Marner said of Campbell. "Just the patience, what he brings just calms our whole team down.
"I think he was a big reason we won this game."
Campbell had a lot to lose going into his start on Thursday.
Exactly one week ago, he allowed three goals on the first six shots he faced against the Jets. The quick tallies from Winnipeg prompted Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe to pull Campbell in favor of goaltender David Rittich, who had made his debut with the club two nights prior.
The shine from his NHL-record 11th win to start a season had long passed and Campbell's struggles continued into Vancouver where he allowed a pair of soft goals in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Canucks.
The choice to go with Rittich in the rematch on Tuesday signalled that Campbell was a great Rittich performance away from losing the net.
That didn't happen.
Keefe called out his goaltending after Rittich's difficult start that brought on a five-game losing streak that combined for an .839 save percentage.
"Yeah I'm concerned about our goaltending, "Keefe said following a 6-3 loss to the Canucks. "Obviously, we've got to get that sorted out."
Campbell's chance against the Jets was a shot at redemption
More importantly, he had to show he can bounce back.
"We tell him all the time that we win as a team and lose as a team," Matthews said of Campbell. "He's a big part of this team and he's been playing unreal for us."
Frederik Andersen, the team's starting goaltender when healthy, appears to a fair distance away from returning as he has not taken part in a full practice session yet with the club.
In the meantime, Campbell has reclaimed the net, and more importantly, his confidence.
The much anticipated debut of Nick Foligno went off without a hitch. Despite a week-long quarantine and a lack of practice sessions with his new club, Foligno didn't look out of place on the first line with Matthews and Marner.
"Auston and Mitch were carrying me in the first, I felt pretty crappy," Foligno said of his rust. "But slowly got my legs and felt a little better."
He also picked up his first point as a Leaf, an assist on an empty-netter.
"What I'll remember the most is the win," Foligno said of the night. "That's what I came here to do.
"It was just so fun to battle with these guys. You can tell their attention to detail, how much they care. It's great to be in a room like that."
Foligno skated on the team's first penalty-kill unit alongside Marner. He didn't see any time on the power play despite having played both the rover and net-front positions with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season.
Perhaps he may get some time on the second power play as the season moves along.
Bogosian and Hyman
Zach Bogosian was injured when he went hard into the boards in the second period of the Leafs' 6-3 loss to the Canucks on Tuesday.
There was no official update on his status apart from Keefe adding that Bogosian will be out at least a week.
Travis Dermott slotted back in on Thursday to skate alongside Rasmus Sandin as the their defensive pair.
If Bogosian is lost for longer, the team could place him on long-term injured reserve. That would free up Bogosian's $1 million cap hit and help in any attempt to activate goaltender Frederik Andersen before the end of the regular season.
Zach Hyman is out a minimum of two weeks and his $2.25 million would also aid in activating Andersen should Hyman go on LTIR.
Top-4 D switch back
After a pair of games where the top-four defensemen switched partners, Keefe elected to revert back to the pairs of defensemen with Morgan Rielly skating with TJ Brodie and Jake Muzzin skating with Justin Holl.
The reasoning behind the decision to switch, according to Keefe, was to get Brodie some experience in skating with different partners in the event of an injury.
In his first season with the club, Brodie had exclusively skated with Rielly at even strength.
Brodie looked more comfortable on Thursday as both he and Rielly had a positive relative Corsi while on the ice. Muzzin and Holl struggled with the worst possession numbers of any of the Leafs.