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Maple Leafs Navigate Tricky Balance of Sending a Message in Loss to Jets

Down 5-3 in the third period, the Toronto Maple Leafs let emotions seal their fate against the Winnipeg Jets. All in the name of sending a message.

WINNIPEG -- The Toronto Maple Leafs did not play well in their 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. They allowed their opponents to feast on their transition game. They looked a bit out of sorts while continuing to tweak their lineup without start forward Mitch Marner (undisclosed injury).

But with the game still within in the third period, Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe felt his team had to stand up for themselves in the wake of a couple of incidents.

"You make the decision there, as a coach, that I felt we needed to have a response," Keefe said. 

Despite giving up four consecutive goals in less than nine minutes to go down 5-1 in the second period, the Leafs managed to scrape together a comeback attempt. Auston Matthews extended his goal-scoring streak to six games and cut Winnipeg's lead to 5-2. Ondrej Kase, playing in his second game after missing the previous three contests with an upper-body injury, made it a two-goal affair.

Although the second period was full of goals, the third period was full of penalty minutes.

Early in the final frame, Winnipeg's Pierre-Luc Dubois pinned Matthews to the ice. With Brad Meier watching the entire exchange, both players are sent off for roughing.

It wasn't clear to Keefe why Matthews received two minutes. 

During the 4-on-4, Maple Leafs defenseman Rasmus Sandin was on the wrong end of a knee-on-knee hit by Jets defenseman Neal Pionk.

Sandin struggled to get on the bench and later needed the help of teammates Kase and Wayne Simmonds to get across the ice to go to the dressing room (Canada Life Centre is one of a few venues in the NHL where the visiting dressing room isn't behind the team's bench).

"We obviously didn't like the hit on Sandy very much," Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said. "Anytime you see go down like that and have to get carried off, we're going to stick up for one another."

Shortly after the hit on Sandin, Simmonds cross-checked Winnipeg's Jansen Harkins. He continued to try and get after a couple of opposing players, including Logan Stanley, before referees has to physically remove Simmonds from a scrum to get him into the penalty box.

Jason Spezza delivered a low-bridge on Pionk that also went uncalled. 

But it was Simmonds' penalty that ultimately ended Toronto's comeback attempt. Mark Scheifele scored on the ensuing power-play to seal the victory.

The bigger loss for the team was avenging the hit on Sandin. There was no update on the severity of the injury but it certainly did not look good.

There was frustration.

"Things just kind of spiraled out of control a little bit," Matthews said. "I mean, it wasn't really hockey in that third period. It was just a bit of a gong show. I don't really know how else to put it."

Matthews stopped short of criticizing the way the game was managed by officials but Keefe certainly had his opinion on how things could have been different and why the game took on a different tone.

"It wasn't just the hit, Keefe said. "The shift just prior to, Matthews is getting handled. It's a 4-on-4 call, but to me, one of the best players in the world is in a situation, that should be a power play there, in my opinion. That's how that should work and it didn't, which is fine.

"We go play 4-on-4 and on the very next shift, you get one of your guys carried off and there's no call there. Should be a 4-on-3, a five-minute power play in a two-goal game, and it's not. I just felt at that point, we needed to have some sort of response."

Superstars getting calls or not getting calls is nothing new, but there is certainly some frustration stemming from some of the calls the Leafs have or have not been getting.

Dubois, who was a thorn in the Leafs' side all night, made contact with Leafs goaltender Joseph Woll late in the third period. Despite a lengthy conversation with head athletic therapist Paul Ayotte on the ice, he stayed in the game but did not take part in post-game interviews with the media, despite being requested.

There was no penalty assessed on the play. Although Keefe didn't have much of an issue on the hit on Woll, he was not pleased about starting goaltender Jack Campbell getting run into against the Minnesota Wild late in their 4-3 shootout loss on Saturday.

"Obviously the health and safety of our goalies is important," Keefe said. "To see a guy get shaken up like that, you don't like to see it but it was nice to see him (Woll) be able to continue to play."

The Leafs looked out of sorts. Without Marner, the line juggling that began on Saturday continued into Sunday with Spezza occupying Marner's role as the top-line right winger.  The Leafs also integrated Timothy Liljegren into the lineup and put him up with Jake Muzzin while downgrading Justin Holl to the bottom pair.

The Leafs will get a better handle on where Marner is at but through two games, it's proven to be a very difficult spot for the team to replace.

There's no question the Leafs shifted their focus from trying to come back into the game when the injuries occurred. But given what they went through and how long the season is. It sounds like it's a small battle the team is willing to lose if it results in winning the war.

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