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Matthew Knies is displaying the clutch gene early in his career

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Photo credit:Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs had just about every factor working against them going into Game 5 against the Boston Bruins. With a struggling power play, inconsistency between the pipes, and an unknown medical issue taking hold of Auston Matthews in the past few days, the Leafs needed to not only beat the Bruins, they had to avoid beating themselves, too.
And that they did.
In what was undoubtedly their tightest game of the series so far, the Leafs and Bruins went beyond regulation for the first time in the postseason and the former prevailed, with rookie Matthew Knies pouncing on a loose puck and burying the rebound less than three minutes into overtime. It was Knies’ second goal of the playoffs, and it also etched his name in the Leafs’ history books as the sixth-youngest player to score a playoff overtime goal for the franchise. He was one of the most involved forwards on the ice all night, scoring the overtime winner, logging just over 17 minutes of ice time, tallying three hits, and even mixing it up with some of Boston’s top players.
The 2021 second-rounder is coming off a solid rookie season in the NHL after making his debut at the end of last season, tallying 15 goals and 35 points in 80 games and leading all Leafs forwards in hits with 169 on the season. The 21-year-old’s play is reminiscent of a young Zach Hyman, considering his strength on the forecheck and net-front presence, but one area of his game that’s seemingly developed a lot faster than expected is his clutch gene.
The clutch gene is something you can’t really teach. Some people just have a natural ability to turn on their game when the stakes are highest, think Justin “Mr. Game 7” Williams or former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz if you want to switch sports. While Knies doesn’t have much of a playoff resume in the NHL at all, he’s already been on the ice for a number of big goals in his young life as a Leaf. Some of the goals that come to mind include Ryan O’Reilly’s game-tying goal in Game 3 against Tampa Bay last year, Morgan Rielly’s overtime winner in the same game, Alex Kerfoot’s Game 4 overtime winner, John Tavares’ series-winning overtime goal in Game 6 (which he assisted on) and his first playoff goal in Game 1 against Florida last season.
You can look at this and say, okay, so what? Why does he get the clutch tag if he’s on the ice but not directly contributing to the goal? And to that, I’d say that it’s simply been too common a trend to ignore. Nobody’s calling Ilya Lyubushkin “clutch” because he tallied a secondary assist on the Knies overtime winner against Boston last night, but when you’re consistently on the ice when big things are happening, whether your contribution shows up on the stat sheet or not, it’s hard to ignore the presence.
The last player I can recall who had this “clutch” gene for the Leafs was Kasperi Kapanen. Before he even suited up for the Leafs, he scored the gold medal-winning overtime goal for Team Finland at the World Juniors, and he also scored the game-tying goal in the game the Leafs clinched a playoff spot in back in 2016-17 along with an overtime winner in Game 2. The following year, he scored a shorthanded goal against the Bruins to tie the game in Game 7, before the entire team collapsed and lost the game 7-4. Sometimes, you get a unique mix of superstar skill and clutch, see somebody like Patrick Kane, but guys like Knies feel like they bring more than they do on the scoresheet when all of their contributions come at important times.
Knies’ play has also caught the attention of his teammates, Jake McCabe being one of them.
“All series long he’s been a force to be reckoned with,” McCabe told media following the game. “I was telling him he’s the strongest guy on the ice, I mean, he’s 21 years old and he’s an absolute horse out there. Does a lot of great work on the forecheck and he’s been starting to kill penalties too, to see him get rewarded with the g-dub (game-winner) is fitting for a guy who’s been working his tail off all series.”

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Max Domi echoed that sentiment.
“It was a huge goal.” Max Domi said in the locker room postgame. “Like I said, everyone stepped up tonight, all four lines were going, [Joseph] Woll stepped into a tough spot, everyone went.”
Knies himself wasn’t shy to credit his captain, John Tavares, with setting up the play.
“It was a pretty incredible play by Johnny there, to drive the net and make that happen. It all started with him, he just found my stick, and I was fortunate to bury that one and send us back home.”
Knies also touched on what it meant to see his teammates’ reactions after the goal.
“You black out a little bit, I was just so excited and so happy, and I think what brought me even more joy was to see the faces of my teammates and how much they wanted to keep playing and move on.”
The Leafs are going to get the opportunity to keep playing, heading home for Game 6 on Thursday night with an opportunity to tie the series up and send it back to Boston on Saturday night. The words “Game 7 in Boston” are enough to send chills down the spine of any fan, but Knies appears unbothered by that, and it seems the rest of his team shares the same sentiment.

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