MATTHEWS SEIZES THE MOMENT
Leafs take cue from their best player in Game 3 to score first win of series
TORONTO 4, BOSTON 2
Auston Matthews dropped to one knee, pumped his fist, yelled “wow” about as piercing and emotionally as you can yell, and skated straight to his bench in celebration.
His moment of scoring and shouting, announcing his arrival in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, was personal and significant, uplifting and game-changing. But mostly personal.
He needed to score. Toronto needed him to score. The Air Canada Centre crowd lived off the goal, as did his teammates. And he needed it because he knows who he is and what he wants so desperately to be for the Maple Leafs.
This was his first huge moment of his second playoff season. This was the night he lifted the Maple Leafs, carried them along for the 4-2 victory over Boston. This is how he sees himself, where he wants to be, what he wants to be, changing teams and changing games.
“He wants to be the best player in the world,” said coach Mike Babcock.
You could see that from the first moment of his first shift Monday night, to the last of his 26 shifts. He wanted the puck. He wanted to make plays. He held it a little longer. He wanted to be a difference-maker for a team in need of one after two playoff defeats in Boston.
“Absolutely,” he said, when asked if this was personal.
The first two losses in Boston made it personal. The way the Patrice Bergeron line scored 20 points, even if a lot of that didn’t come against Matthews, made it personal. Scoring the winning goals, that’s what Sidney Crosby does, that’s what Jonathan Toews used to do. Those are the players he references on occasion.
Babcock calls them the serial winners. Matthews yearns to be a serial winner and on a night when the Maple Leafs had so much to lose — ostensibly a playoff series and a possible off-season of scorn — he needed to be the best player on the ice, and that’s what the great ones strive for.
The pass came from William Nylander. Doesn’t it always? At least twice in the seconds before the score, it looked like the Bruins would clear the puck yet failed to do so. Then the puck was on Nylander’s stick and Matthews knew what would come next.
The pass was right on his tape and Matthews spotted the opening up high on Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. He took a quick look — unlike the Mike Bossys of the scoring world who said they never aimed at anything — found a spot and let that wondrous wrist shot of his do the rest. Then he exploded with emotion amid crowd noise he compared to an earthquake.
Between periods he had been talking to Morgan Rielly and the two of them knew they had elevated their game on a night when elevation was necessary for victory. They talked about simplifying things, the way hockey players describe such items.
“Just go out there and play,” said Rielly. “He’s a guy who puts a lot of pressure on himself to be great. And when he goes out and plays well, he’s one of the best players in the world.
“That’s a big goal for us. You could tell by his reaction, he was excited.”
Sometimes Matthews is matter of fact about scoring. But he can’t hide it when it’s different, when so much is on the line, when he knows what he can do and doesn’t get a chance to do it. And then he does it and the lights shine brightly and it’s on to Game 4.
Today, the Maple Leafs have a chance in this series.
This is nine playoff games for Matthews as a pro. He has scored five times in those games after a reasonably quiet start a year ago as a rookie. That’s a 45-goals-per-82-games pace in the post-season. And this is just the beginning.
“Important,” Babcock called it. “I think when you’re my age social media doesn’t really affect your life. You want to be the best player in the world and it’s not going the way you want it. It probably tightens you up.
“Now I haven’t talked to him about this, so I don’t know, this is me speculating, but I think tonight gets a huge weight off his shoulders and instead of thinking about all this stuff, it’ll just come natural and he’ll get playing again.
“What you have to remember is, these guys are young guys. They’re playing against real players and they’re young guys. You’ve got to go through some of these slappings in your life to respond and learn how to play and do things right.”
It is all about building with Auston Matthews. One night into the next. One season into the next. One playoff game into the next. These are the first of the celebrations. There will be more to come.
Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews celebrates his second-period goal against the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the first-round series Monday night in Toronto. The desperate Leafs won 4-2 after dropping the first two contests in Boston.
Toronto’s Patrick Marleau scores his second goal of the night past Boston goalie Tuukka Rask.