MATTHEWS SEIZES THE MO­MENT

Leafs take cue from their best player in Game 3 to score first win of se­ries

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - STEVE SIM­MONS ssim­mons@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/sim­mon­ssteve

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.

PHO­TOS: PETER J THOMP­SON

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.

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