Knee Jerk Reaction: Matthews shows he can dominate in the playoffs

Photo credit:Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
4 days ago
Game One was rough but if you were told the Maple Leafs would split the games in Boston to start the series, you’d probably take it. That’s exactly what they did and at least offensively it was on the back of Auston Matthews who picked up the game-winning goal and two primary assists.
If there is a running theme to the commentary on the Leafs in the playoffs it is that Toronto needs its star players to be their best players. Game One didn’t have that. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner brought preseason energy to that game and at least with Matthews there seemed to be an awakening in Game Two.
After the early goal against during Jake McCabe’s ill-advised penalty, Matthews quickly moved the puck up ice resulting in Max Domi’s goal to even the score.
In the second, on the powerplay, Matthews found John Tavares for a high slot opportunity that once again evened the score.
Finally, in the third, Matthews took a high hail mary pass from Max Domi to go in alone on Linus Ullmark and Auston demonstrated why he’s the best goal scorer in hockey today. The Leafs star and likely Hart Trophy finalist took over in a way the Leafs haven’t seen in the playoffs since the Tampa series last year.
While giving Matthews his flowers for the night is what he deserves there needs to be a recognition on Matthews’ part that this needs to be the norm for him in the spring. He has to be this guy every night. Not only picking up three points but being the guy who is taking the important defensive zone faceoffs because the Leafs don’t have anyone else, they can trust in that situation. If the Leafs are going to be a cup contender, Matthews has to be a Conn Smythe contender.
Only twice in Matthews’ 52 playoff games has he had 3 multi-point games in a row. We’ll see if Game Three can change that.
At the same time, there seems to be a call for adding additional pressure on Matthews to have him reabsorb Mitch Marner back onto his line and to snap Marner out of his funk. This seems like a step backward and while Tavares and Marner have not been working at all, other options can be explored there (I’d suggest Marner playing with Kampf to give the Leafs a 5v5 defensive line that can take some pressure off Matthews.) Marner needs to be better, but he doesn’t need to be Matthews’ problem, instead Matthews should be the wake-up call to both Tavares and Marner that more needs to be given.

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