|4:00 PM PT5:00 PM MT6:00 PM CT7:00 PM ET0:00 GMT8:00 5:00 PM MST7:00 PM EST4:00 UAE (+1)19:00 ETNaN:� BRT, December 31, 2022
Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado Attendance: 18,136
Michael Bunting scores 2, Maple Leafs top Avalanche 6-2
By MICHAEL KELLY
DENVER (AP) Michael Bunting had two goals, Auston Matthews and T.J. Brodie scored 24 seconds apart in the second period, and the Toronto Maple Leafs spoiled Nathan MacKinnon's return with a 6-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.
Matthews added an assist to his 18th goal, Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall also scored, and Matt Murray stopped 26 shots for Toronto.
"They got Nate back tonight, which gives them a big push," Matthews said. "I thought we would be defended really well and limited their time and space. It's a big win for us to end this trip off against a good team and get back home."
MacKinnon missed 10 games with an upper-body injury suffered Dec. 5 against Philadelphia. His initial timeline was returning next week, but he was able to get back early, finishing with a minus-3 in 22:19 of ice time.
"He had his legs underneath him," coach Jared Bendar said. "I thought his timing might be off a little bit, but obviously Nate keeps himself in great condition, came back ready to skate and play. He was pretty dangerous at times. It'll take him a game or two to figure out the timing of it, but I thought he played pretty hard tonight."
J.T. Compher had a goal and an assist, and Devon Toews scored for Colorado, which has dropped two straight.
The Maple Leafs finished 2-1 on their road trip and held onto a third period lead after losing late advantages at St. Louis and Arizona.
"The last couple games we've been sitting back a little too much," Marner said of the third period. "We didn't do that tonight."
Saturday night they were ahead by a goal late in the second period when they added two quick insurance goals. Matthews converted a turnover by former teammate Denis Malgin into a goal at 15 minutes, and Brodie stole MacKinnon's clearing attempt along the boards and scored his second goal.
That ended goaltender Alexandar Georgiev's night after he allowed five goals on 24 shots. Jonas Johansson had six saves in relief.
"It wasn't poor effort, our guys are giving the effort, but he didn't play his best," Bednar said of Georgiev. "We've certainly seen him play better than he played tonight, which is why we made the change in goal."
Bunting scored into an empty net at 16:11 of the third, his 11th of the season.
"At the end of the first and second periods you could see them come alive," Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. "The task was to make sure they didn't do that in the third, and I thought we did a good job of it."
Marner and Engvall gave Toronto a 2-0 lead in the first with goals 2:36 apart and Compher scored his seventh at 17:28.
The Avalanche took a penalty eight seconds into the third period and Bunting scored at 34 seconds. Toews made it 3-2 when his shot went off Matthews' skate in the crease at 9:45.
NOTES: John Tavares and William Nylander had two assists each for the Maple Leafs. ... Since moving to Colorado in 1995, the Avalanche are 4-4-2 at home on New Year's Eve. ... RW Dryden Hunt played in his second game after being dealt to Toronto by Colorado on Dec. 19. ... Avalanche G Pavel Francouz (lower body) missed his third straight game.
Maple Leafs: Host St. Louis on Tuesday night.
Avalanche: Host Vegas on Monday night.
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Updated December 31, 2022