TORONTO — John Tavares had two assists in his 1,000th NHL game, and the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Washington Capitals 5-1 at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday.
Tavares was honored before the game in a ceremony at center ice that included his parents, wife, and two sons.
“It was something I tried to obviously be aware of, but just tried to be where my feet were all day long and stick to the preparation with some added bonus with the ceremony with my family out on the ice, which was really special,” Tavares said. “Just tried to get into the game and keep it simple early and get myself moving. Tried to execute and keep the game simple in front of me and just build from there, but overall, it was a great night from the group.”
Video: WSH@TOR: Rielly gives Maple Leafs the lead in the 2nd
Michael Bunting had a goal and an assist, and Ilya Samsonov made 23 saves for the Maple Leafs (31-12-8), who are 3-1-0 on a five game homestand that will conclude on Wednesday against the Boston Bruins.
“We play today more for Johnny, yeah,” Samsonov said. “A thousand games, this is amazing. … It’s unbelievable, we’re so happy for him, and it was a really nice win against my ex-team. I enjoy it.”
Toronto was coming off a 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Friday.
“It was good, we wanted to respond,” Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “We weren’t very proud of ourselves when we were leaving here after that game against Ottawa. It was a good day of practice yesterday, a good day with our Easter Seals skate, and then to come out and perform well, that was good.”
Nicklas Backstrom scored, and Darcy Kuemper allowed four goals on 20 shots before being pulled for the Capitals (26-20-6). Charlie Lindgren made six saves in relief.
Washington is 1-3-0 in its past four games and has not won two consecutive games since Dec. 23-27.
“Obviously, the standings are getting tight this time of year, and you want to keep climbing as much as you can,” Capitals forward Conor Sheary said. “… But losing after a [win] is something we have to avoid and start stringing together some wins.”
Video: WSH@TOR: Nylander scores in 2nd period
Bunting tied it 1-1 at 1:29 of the second period with a power-play goal. He jammed in a loose puck at the top of the crease after Tavares deflected Mitchell Marner‘s shot from the top of the right circle.
Morgan Rielly put Toronto ahead 2-1 at 7:00 when he collected a loose puck in the slot after Bunting put it in front from behind the net. It was Rielly’s first goal this season (36th game).
“Just relief. It felt good,” Rielly said.
Tavares said Rielly had not let the goal drought affect his demeanor around the team.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever played with a better professional than Morgan,” Tavares said. “The way he carries himself, you’d never know (he hadn’t scored). I think he is a world-class player, person and leader, and when the puck hasn’t been going in, it’s never easy especially between the ears. … You don’t see him hanging his head or sinking his shoulders.”
William Nylander made it 3-1 at 10:45 when he jammed in a loose puck at the top of the crease after Calle Jarnkrok‘s shot on a 3-on-1 produced a rebound.
Pierre Engvall extended the lead to 4-1 at 14:20. He received a pass from TJ Brodie, skated into the high slot, and shot glove side.
“I thought the first period was good, the second period, we didn’t do the right things defensively, and it burned us,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said.
“It was out of position, wrong assignment, and it caught us. I don’t think it was an overwhelming amount of pressure, but at the end of the day, it’s about details, and I think the details in the second period were not good enough.”
Video: WSH@TOR: Engvall cuts to the circle and snaps it in
Zach Aston-Reese scored at 16:47 of the third period for the 5-1 final.
Backstrom put the Capitals ahead 1-0 at 17:17 of the first period when he received a pass from Marcus Johansson along the boards, skated to the right face-off dot, and shot glove side for a power-play goal. It was Backstrom’s first goal of the season in his ninth game after missing 42 games because of hip resurfacing surgery.
“We had a good first period, but we gave it away in the second there,” Backstrom said. “It’s tough to come back when they score four goals during the second. You’re not going to win hockey games when you play like that.
“It doesn’t feel good, that’s for sure. We played a good game against Pittsburgh (3-2 shootout win on Thursday), 60 minutes, and obviously, we didn’t tonight. At the end of the day, we have to regroup here going to Columbus for the next one and finish off strong before the (All-Star) break.”
NOTES: Brodie had an assist and was plus-2 in 21:15 of ice time in his return after missing 10 games with a rib injury. … Tavares became the 25th player to play in his 1,000th game with Toronto. … Nylander has 12 points (six goals, six assists) during a seven-game point streak. … Samsonov, who was making his sixth straight start, is 15-1-1 at home this season.