TORONTO — Joseph Woll entered this season wanting to be prepared for whatever came his way.
With less than two weeks left on the NHL schedule, the rookie goaltender is right where he wants to be.
Woll made 24 saves following an emergency recall as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old was summoned from the American Hockey League after Matt Murray got knocked out of a 5-2 loss to Detroit with a head injury 48 hours earlier.
Woll improved to 4-1-0 in the NHL in 2022-23 to go along with some impressive numbers with the Toronto Marlies.
“Regardless of what happens, I try my best to stay ready for opportunity,” he said.
Ilya Samsonov, who was already trending to be Toronto’s No. 1 option when the playoffs get going in the middle of the month against Tampa Bay, served as Woll’s backup.
“Biggest thing is to stay in the moment,” Woll, who’s allowed six combined goals in four straight NHL victories, said of the door swinging open this late in the season. “I can’t try to predict too far down the road.
“Goal is to come here every day and give my best.”
Zach Aston-Reese scored twice for Toronto (46-21-10), while Alexander Kerfoot and Auston Mathews, into an empty net, provided the rest of the offence. Sam Lafferty added two assists.
“We had a similar situation the other night against Detroit, playing a team that has no playoff hopes,” Aston-Reese said. “If you look at our record against teams that have been out of the playoffs, it’s probably not as good as it should be.
“Everyone was aware of that.”
The Leafs also stretched their lead on Tampa for home ice in the first round to six points. Both teams have five games remaining.
“Important two points,” Matthews said. “Want to feed off that and keep going.”
Jack Roslovic and Eric Robinson replied for Columbus (24-45-8), which got 46 stops from Jet Greaves in his NHL debut.
“Dream come true,” said the 22-year-old netminder from nearby Cambridge, Ont. “Really special to be able to not only play my first NHL game, but to be able to do it at home with so many family and friends in attendance.”
Toronto opened the scoring five minutes into the first period when Aston-Reese scored his ninth.
Battered by a long list of injuries all season and icing a lineup with plenty of fresh faces, the Blue Jackets responded when Roslovic snapped his 11th to make it 1-1 after Woll stumbled in his crease.
There was also a scary moment in the period when Columbus forward Kent Johnson accidentally stepped on the leg of Leafs star Mitch Marner, who wasn’t hurt on the play.
“He’s not meaning to do it,” Marner said. “Pretty lucky, but definitely a freak little incident.”
Kerfoot pushed Toronto ahead 2-1 midway through the second with his ninth after Greaves made a terrific stop on Nick Abruzzese.
The rookie continued to keep Columbus in it before Woll denied Liam Foudy on a quality chance.
“In the second period there was more action for him,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of his goaltender, who made the ninth NHL start of his career. “He was really good.”
Aston-Reese gave the home side some breathing room nine minutes into the third when he tipped his career-high 10th for a 3-1 lead.
Robinson got Columbus back within one on his 12th, but Matthews iced it into an empty net with his 38th after some nervy moments at the other end where Woll stood tall.
“This is really kind of a perfect game for us in a lot of ways,” Keefe said as he looks toward the playoffs. “We had the puck a lot, we’re in control of the game.
“Yet it’s still keeping us honest and keeping us playing with the mindset that’s going to be required.”
The Leafs hosted their annual Pride night, but as in years past did not wear themed warm-up jerseys.
Toronto, which has celebrated Pride since 2017 in support of the LGBTQ+ community, had rainbow stick tape available to players for the pre-game skate at Scotiabank Arena, while helmets included decals.
Samsonov, who is Russian, didn’t add the sticker to the back of his mask.
A small group of NHLers have declined to wear Pride warm-up jerseys this season, citing religious or safety reasons. Some teams have altered or cancelled plans surrounding similar events.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly, who has marched in Toronto’s Pride parade, said before the game. “And especially speak louder than attire.”
Greaves cheered for the Leafs growing up and was particularly fond of former Toronto goaltender Frederik Anderson.
He told a story before the game about watching from the stands as a kid when Andersen was in the crease at what was then Air Canada Centre.
“Had this weird, weird experience,” Greaves recalled. “I was like, ‘I would love to play here one day. I’d love to be in the NHL … maybe one day.’
“To be here now is really special.”
Toronto: Visits Boston on Thursday.
Columbus: Visits New Jersey on Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2023.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press