DALLAS (AP) — It was just another game for Curtis McElhinney on Thursday night, even though he hadn’t played in more than a month.
McElhinney made 39 saves, helping the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Dallas Stars 4-1.
He had lost in his last two appearances in December, but kept himself ready.
“Just keeping good habits in practice, trying to stay focused,” he said. “The last couple games for me were tough personally, so this is a good way to bounce back.”
Toronto coach Mike Babcock wasn’t surprised.
“That’s what we pay him to do.”
Nazem Kadri scored twice, and Zach Hyman and Auston Matthews had one goal each for the Maple Leafs.
McElhinney’s effort turned around the recent fortunes of two teams in playoff position at the All-Star break.
The Leafs, third in the Atlantic Division at 28-18-5, had been 2-3-2 in the previous seven games. Dallas, coming off a 4-0-1 stretch, still holds the first wild card in the Western Conference at 28-18-4.
“I said the key (would be) the first 10 minutes,” McElhinney said, “and we did a tremendous job the first 10 minutes setting the pace of play and kind of easing into it.”
At 15:50 of the first period, Kadri scored his first goal for a lead Toronto never lost.
With three Leafs in front of the net, Mitchell Marner passed across the goal mouth to Kadri, and Stars goalie Ben Bishop had little chance to stop him.
“We got the goal, and I thought everyone relaxed,” Babcock said. “We skated real good tonight, maybe the best we’ve skated all year, all four lines. It was good for a team playing back-to-back.”
The Leafs won in overtime at Chicago on Wednesday.
“We had a lot of momentum until they scored their first goal,” Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock said. “Then again when they scored their second goal we had more momentum. We had two, three scoring opportunities there right away.”
McElhinney took away those opportunities.
Toronto’s Jake Gardiner had three assists for the second time in four games. William Nylander assisted twice.
Tyler Seguin scored to bring Dallas within 3-1 late in the second period, but Matthews restored the Leafs’ three-goal lead at 2:38 of the third.
Bishop had 25 saves.
After Toronto finished a penalty kill, Hyman extended the Leafs’ lead to 2-0 at 1:55 of the second period. Nylander’s shot from the left circle went off Bishop, over his left leg, and fell just short of the goal line. Hyman was there to put it in.
A good bounce gave Kadri his second goal, on the power play at 9:29 of the second. His pass to the top of the slot went off Dallas’ Mattias Janmark, down the slot and into the net to the right of Bishop.
It was Kadri’s third goal in two nights after a seven-game scoreless streak.
“I don’t know how many guys it hit or how it ended up in the back of the net,” he said, “but just a couple deflections and it was a goal.”
NOTES: McElhinney was playing for the first time since Dec. 20. In contrast, Bishop has started 14 of the Stars’ past 16 games. McElhinney had a season-high 41 saves in shutting out Edmonton 1-0 on Dec. 10. … Radulov has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in the last nine games. … In three career games against Dallas, Marner has four points (one goal, three assists). … A second-period fight between Stars LW Antoine Roussel and Toronto D Connor Carrick was the seventh in Dallas’ last two games. … The Leafs have played a league-high 51 games.
Maple Leafs: Return home for a game Wednesday night against the Islanders.
Stars: Complete a three-game homestand Tuesday night vs. Los Angeles.
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