The Toronto Maple Leafs’ best players didn’t show up in the first two games of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Boston Bruins.
Game 3 in Toronto was a far different story.
The Leafs’ best players made several clutch players to lift the Leafs to a 4-2 win Monday night, much to the delight of a raucous crowd at the Air Canada Centre.
Leafs winger Patrick Marleau, the veteran signed to provide offense in this type of situation, scored twice, including a goal that put Toronto up 4-2 late in the third period.
Other top-six forwards for Toronto, including Mitch Marner (two assists), James van Riemsdyk (one goal), William Nylander (one assist) and Tomas Plekanec (one assist) all found the scoresheet.
The highlight was Auston Matthews, the 2016 No. 1 overall draft pick who scored 76 goals in his first two pro seasons, finally lighting the lamp for the first time in the series.
Matthews sniped a shot past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask to give the Leafs a 3-2 lead in the second period. It proved to be the game-winning goal.
Matthews was silent in the first two games. He was held scoreless and couldn’t generate many scoring chances against the Patrice Bergeron line. His reaction to struggling in Boston also was not what you’d want to hear from a leader and a great player.
But he bounced back well in Game 3, making his presence felt all over the ice. Not only did he score, he also went 6-for-9 on faceoffs and tallied five shots on goal.
The Leafs’ strength is their scoring depth. Toronto finished third in goals scored and second in power-play percentage. This is a highly skilled team with the speed to put opponents on their heels, and that certainly was the case in Game 3 as the Bruins were forced to defend several odd-man rushes.
The Leafs don’t have the defensive talent to win tight, low-scoring games, at least not against a similarly high-powered Bruins team. They need to score and score often, and it’ll be up to their top-six forwards, most notably Matthews, to get the job done.
Game 3 was the blueprint for the Leafs, and now the Bruins have two days to prepare a solution ahead of Thursday’s Game 4.
Thumbnail photo via John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports
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