Bring on the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs finished out their 56-game regular season against a tough, hard-working Jets team that ground out a 4-2 win Friday night in Winnipeg.
Toronto held one-goal leads on two occasions, but Kyle Connor scored in the third period, his second goal of the game, to break a 2-2 tie and send the Leafs into the playoffs on a down note.
The sting won’t last long. The Leafs will take Saturday off before four days of preparation for Thursday’s opener of their playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena — their first post-season battle since 1979.
“I think the guys are really ready to start,” Leafs goalie Jack Campbell said. “We’re so excited … it will be an absolute battle, but we’re prepared. Our team is very excited for the playoffs. We’re built for the playoffs.”
Playing without top-line winger Mitch Marner for rest, the Leafs outshot the Jets 30-23 but coughed up two goals off an ill-advised pass in front of their own goal and an odd-man rush.
Toronto’s top two lines produced little with nothing to play for. Third-liners Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall, both with their seventh of the season, did the scoring.
Auston Matthews, the NHL leader in goals, was held off scoresheet and finished the season with 41.
- On the mark: Matthews’ final mark of 0.80 goals per game is the third-highest all time. He remains one shy of 200 goals for his career, with 199 in 333 games
- Triple digits: Despite finishing with consecutive losses, the Leafs held first place in the North Division for the final 100 days of the schedule.
“We wanted to be a team that could lead the division, and one that could hold it,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I don’t take too much from these last two games.”
The Leafs finished sixth overall. A win would have placed them fourth, and one point would have given them fifth.
- Jets watch: The playoff-bound Jets, meanwhile, bagged just the third win in their final 12 games. Veteran centre Paul Stastny left in the first period and did not return. The Jets are hoping forward Nik Ehlers (upper-body injury) returns by the start of the playoffs. They need scoring, and have seen forward Pierre-Luc Dubois finish the season without a goal in 17 games.
- Soupy snub: Campbell lost in regulation for the first time in his last nine games. He finished the season at 17-3-2, and was trending on Twitter Friday night after he was not mentioned in a ranking on the NHL’s website of the top 15 goalies entering the playoffs. Campbell will now wait to find out when he’ll make his first career post-season appearance.
“If anything, it will be more exciting,” the 29-year-old netminder said.
- Powerless: Toronto’s power play remains an issue heading into the post-season. The Leafs failed to score with the man advantage on two opportunities Friday, and have just six goals in their last 73 chances.
- Marner magic: Marner was rested in favour of Adam Brooks, wrapping up a successful and unusual regular season. Marner set a franchise record by recording 67 points without a single power-play goal. He is also the only player in the top 53 in NHL scoring without a power-play marker. The winger, fourth in the NHL in scoring, also averaged a career-high 22:26 in ice time this season, second only to defenceman Morgan Rielly’s 23:38 on the Leafs.
Mark Zwolinski is a Toronto-based sports reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @markzwol