TORONTO — With the Maple Leafs needing someone to step up in the absence of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner delivered a four-point performance to lead Toronto to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins on Saturday night.
Marner recorded the secondary assist on Ron Hainsey's game-winner with 1:23 remaining in the third. He set up two others and tied the game 1-1 in the first period as the Maple Leafs won their ninth straight time on home ice to match a franchise record.
"I think everyone in this room wants to step up, we talked about how big a role (Matthews) is on this team, but we can't sit back and relax, we've got to make sure we put our foot on the pedal and work hard and do more just to fill that void," said Marner.
"I'm just trying to help out more down low and trying to bring on, I think, a bigger role."
The win moves Toronto (39-20-5) ahead of Boston (37-14-8) for the second seed in the Atlantic Division by a single point. However, the Bruins have five games in hand on the Maple Leafs.
Nazem Kadri added a pair of goals while William Nylander finished with two assists and Frederik Andersen, who entered the game with a 9-1-0 record in 10 career starts against the Bruins, stopped 23 shots.
Hainsey one-timed a Nylander pass past Rask for his fourth goal of the season and his first since Dec. 23. Boston challenged the play for goaltender interference but after review the goal stood.
"Just trying to get it by the guy in front (of me) from the blue line," said Hainsey. "Nice job by (Nylander) coming around the net and (Zach Hyman) down there.
"A lot of traffic down there, both teams sending guys to the net so you're just hoping to get it through."
Brad Marchand scored twice and Jake DeBrusk had the other Bruins goal. Rask made 32 saves. Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak each had two assists.
"What happened was they were a lot better than us," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy of the second period. "We came out of it tied (3-3), but they were clearly the better team.
"I thought our gap for our (defence) weren't good enough to kill some plays so we could get some transition going whether it's breakout or neutral zone."
Marchand opened the scoring, taking a Pastrnak pass and beating Andersen glove-side at 6:11 of the first.
Toronto responded just over a minute later when Marner took a Nylander feed and beat a sprawling, out of position, Rask for his 16th at 7:15.
Marner now has 15 points in his last eight games.
"I think he's been spectacular. It's unbelievable how good he's played," Leafs coach Mike Babcock said of Marner pre-game. "He's done a real good job whether it's playing with (Patrick Marleau) or playing with (Kadri) or just feeling good about himself.
"Obviously didn't have the kind of start (to the season) he wanted, it took time and welcome to the league, it's hard. But he's a good player and plays with great energy."
Kadri gave the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead, on a power play, tapping in a James van Riemsdyk pass at 10:30 for his 22nd of the season.
Boston tied it 2-2 on Marchand's second of the period. The Bruins forward took a Pastrnak feed and beat Andersen short side from in tight for his 23rd of the season at 15:02.
DeBrusk gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead at 1:55 of the second, re-directing a Ryan Spooner pass over the right shoulder of Andersen for his 12th.
With Charlie McAvoy serving a tripping minor, Kadri one-timed a Marner pass over the glove of Rask for his 23rd of the season with 55.9 seconds remaining in the second frame to tie it 3-3.
NOTES: Auston Matthews missed his first game with a shoulder injury suffered in Thursday's win over the New York Islanders. … The Maple Leafs now head out on the road for four games beginning Monday in Tampa Bay.
Dhiren Mahiban, The Canadian Press