TORONTO (AP) — Joseph Woll waited a long time for his first home start with the Maple Leafs.
The Blue Jackets spoiled the moment Saturday after Toronto inexplicably took its foot off the gas against the NHL’s worst team.
Kent Johnson scored the winner in the third period as the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets downed the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 on Saturday night to split a back-to-back.
“Outworked, outplayed,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said of his team’s second period that saw the Blue Jackets grab a 21-10 shot advantage and score three times.
Boone Jenner and Kirill Marchenko had a goal and an assist each, and Sean Kuraly also scored for Columbus. Elvis Merzlikins had 26 saves.
The importance of a surprising victory for an injury-ravaged roster on national TV wasn’t lost on Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen.
“I grew up (watching) ‘Hockey Night in Canada,’” said Larsen. “We had the old antenna. I think we had three channels.
“It sticks with you. It means a lot to you as a Canadian-born guy.”
William Nylander, Michael Bunting and Morgan Rielly each scored for Toronto. Mitchell Marner added two assists.
Woll made 36 stops for the Leafs in his first start of the season — and first home appearance of his NHL career.
“Pretty awesome atmosphere to play in,” said the 24-year-old. “Special playing in front of our home crowd.”
Johnson put the Blue Jackets up for good six minutes into the third when he redirected Cole Sillinger’s shot past Woll for his 11th goal of the season. The goal was reviewed for a possible high stick, but the call on the ice was confirmed.
Toronto pulled Woll with less than three minutes remaining, but Columbus held on for just its second regulation victory in 11 games.
The Leafs led 2-0 through 20 minutes and appeared to be cruising to an easy victory before putting in perhaps their worst period of the season in a sleepy second.
Jenner got the visitors on the board at 4:21 when he snapped his 15th home from the slot off a broken play.
Marchenko tied it 2-2 with 4:59 left in the period off a Jenner rebound. Kuraly’s go-ahead goal came 57 seconds later.
The door opened for Woll to play second fiddle to Ilya Samsonov after Matt Murray went down with an ankle injury before the NHL All-Star break.
Woll might have been called up earlier in the season when both Murray and Samsonov were sidelined, but didn’t make his debut in the American Hockey League until late November as he worked his way back from shoulder surgery before also suffering an ankle injury while rehabbing.
The 62nd pick at the 2016 NHL draft has been near-perfect in the minors since getting back to full health.
Woll, who grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, is 13-1-0 with a .930 save percentage and a 2.36 goals-against average with the Toronto Marlies. He was the top goalie in the recent AHL skill competition.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get the win for them,” Woll said of Saturday’s Scotiabank Arena crowd. “But definitely an experience I’ll remember.”
Nylander hit the 60-point mark for the fourth time in his career. The 26-year-old is on pace to crack 90 points for the first time since entering the league in 2015-16.
JOHNNY’S BEEN GOOD
Columbus winger Johnny Gaudreau picked up an assist in the second period to give him 50 points in 53 games — the quickest a player has reached the half-century mark in franchise history. The previous benchmark was held by Ray Whitney, who accomplished the feat in 56 contests.
Blue Jackets: Host the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.
Maple Leafs: Host the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night.