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Barrie scores again, Leafs hang on for second win in as many games under Keefe

DENVER — Tyson Barrie might have a new answer the next time he is asked about his favourite memory at the Pepsi Center.

The Maple Leafs defenceman, in his return to the only home rink he had ever known in the National Hockey League, put aside his emotions and scored a power-play goal, helping the Leafs beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-3 on Saturday night.

The victory gave Sheldon Keefe his second win in as many games behind the Leafs bench since taking over from the fired Mike Babcock.

The Leafs, who don’t play again until Wednesday in Detroit, lost their final six games under Babcock.

Toronto managed to withstand a flurry of Avalanche chances in the final minutes before Zach Hyman scored into an empty net.

“While (the win) was ugly, what it did require was us to really battle and especially down the stretch,” Keefe said. “I’ve only been here a few days, but these guys have been on the road a long time, grinding, they’ve been through a lot. I like how we persevered, and found a way, how Freddy (Andersen) battled real hard in net. It was a good win.”

Andersen finished with 34 saves, including 15 in the third period.

With Babcock coaching, Barrie had little confidence and couldn’t get on track. When the change came, Barrie described it as “a new lease.”

We bet that Barrie, who was treated to a lengthy video tribute and a standing ovation, couldn’t have predicted such a quick change in his fortunes.

One of the moves made by Keefe was to put Barrie on the Leafs’ No. 1 power-play unit. Toronto had no power plays in Arizona on Thursday, but Barrie did score his first goal of the season.

Toronto got a power play 13 minutes into the game on Saturday. Barrie, who also had an assist, needed 22 seconds to score, the goal coming when he was fed by William Nylander and fired a shot past Philipp Grubauer.

“Felt really good to get that one here,” Barrie said of his goal. “Not that there is any ill will with (the Avs), but coming home in front of all the familiar faces, it’s nice to get one.

“(The standing ovation was) amazing. I was not sure how I was going to feel coming back but that really topped it off.”

For Keefe, it’s not just about having Barrie get some renewed belief in himself.

“Confidence is one thing, and being put in position to succeed is another,” Keefe said. “He has a unique skill set, he needs to be very involved and very active in the offence. When he is not, he is holding back, even if he were confident, it’s not going to help him. We need him to be engaged, be on his toes.”


With the Leafs up 4-2 and on a power play in the third period, Keefe called a timeout with 57 seconds remaining in a Nazem Kadri minor. “We have elite talent, so the more we can utilize them when their energy level is good, we’re going to do it,” Keefe said. “That was sort of the method to the madness of calling the timeout. It was a key point in the game and if we could find a way to score it would be really good for us.” That did not happen, but it was a nice bit of coaching on Keefe’s part and something we can’t recall Babcock doing … Valeri Nichushkin brought the Avs to within one goal when he scored at 6:54 of the third … Leafs captain John Tavares played 22 minutes 31 seconds, his most in a Toronto uniform … The Leafs’ four goals in the first period represented the first time this season they have had four in the opening 20 minutes. It was the third time the Leafs had four in a period … Former Av Alex Kerfoot also got a video tribute … Andersen was beaten 31 seconds into the game on a shot from the point by Nathan MacKinnon. The shot wasn’t hard and Andersen wasn’t screened. Andersen said he over-pushed and thought the shot was going to be harder … Denver native Nick Shore scored the Leafs’ first goal, tapping in a pass from Pierre Engvall. Engvall spun and fed Shore with a no-look feed … It was 2-1 Leafs 67 seconds later when Auston Matthews made a subtle move and then used a quick release to fool Grubauer … After Barrie’s goal, the Leafs got their fourth when Jason Spezza sent Kasperi Kapanen in on a breakaway. Kapanen went bar-down on Grubauer’s glove side … Pavel Francouz took over in the Avs net to start the second period and faced just 12 shots in the final 40 minutes … A power-play goal by Andre Burakovsky at 10:21 of the second cut the Leafs lead to 4-2 … Ex-Leaf Kadri had two assists … One area Keefe wants to improve is defensive-zone coverage, and as with all of the changes Keefe wants to implement, time is required. “We need to protect the middle of the ice a lot better and we’re trying to be a little more patient with our wingers in maintaining positioning in the inside of the ice, not getting them outside the dots too much,” Keefe said. “In the short term it might create a little more time in our end than we would like (as players get accustomed), but we are trying to prioritize the middle and make sure we settle things down there.”

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