Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
The Core Four erupts as the Leafs answer the bell in Game 2: Muzzy’s Muzings
By Nick Alberga10 months ago
Well, that’s one way to silence the critics.
In Game 1, it was Tampa who administered the ass-whooping. Suffice it is to say, Toronto returned the favour in a big way in Game 2 on Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena.
John Tavares notched his first career Stanley Cup Playoff hat trick as the Leafs hammered the Bolts 7-2 to even up their best-of-7 series at one game apiece.
Weirdly, this one took on many of the same characteristics as the opener, except the roles were reversed. Mitch Marner’s first of two on the night kicked off the scoring just 47 seconds in. After that, Toronto would add two more to lead 3-0 after one.
Meantime, it was a monster night for the Core Four. John Tavares (three goals), Mitch Marner (two goals, one assist), William Nylander (one goal, one assist) and Auston Matthews (two assists) combined for 10 points. Not to be outdone, Morgan Rielly tied the Leafs franchise record among defenders with four points – all assists – in a playoff game.
Furthermore, Toronto went 2-for-7 on the power play, Tampa went 0-for-2. In total, the two teams combined for 74 penalty minutes on the night, many of which came with the game well out of hand.
Ilya Samsonov made 19 stops for his second career playoff win and first as a Maple Leaf.
THAT’S HOW YOU START A HOCKEY GAME
My goodness, what a role reversal from Tuesday night. In my ways, the first period of Game 2 mirrored the first period of Game 1, except this time it was the Maple Leafs who were the aggressor. As mentioned, Mitch Marner set the tone just 47 seconds in with his power play tally. Then, midway through the frame, John Tavares got on board to make it 2-0 before William Nylander sniped home his second with a penalty pending. They were engaged, assertive, physical, and pretty much everything that they weren’t in the opener. That’s more like it. You never know what you’re going to get in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that’s for sure. Bottom line: Good things happen when you score first.
THE SECOND FRAME
For as good as I thought the Leafs were in the first period, I thought they were even better in the second. Honestly, that’s as good as I’ve seen them play all season long. In total, they outscored Tampa 3-1 and took a commanding 6-1 lead into the second intermission. Most importantly, it was the big boys leading the way —specifically Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Ryan O’Reilly, and Morgan Rielly. Simply put, Tampa had no answer. On top of that, I thought the Leafs did a great job of responding after Ian Cole made it 3-1. It felt like they were in a precarious position there for a few minutes, but full credit to Sheldon Keefe’s squad, they kept playing their game.
HAVE A NIGHT, MO
Firstly, it’s been a hard year for Morgan Rielly —I’m sure he would be the first to tell you that. Of course, he can make everyone forget about that by having a strong postseason. And it wasn’t just the four points on Thursday night. From puck drop, he was dialled in. Most importantly, he was using his speed and joining the rush. I’ll just say it: That was a vintage Morgan Rielly performance. In fact, dating back to last spring, the 29-year-old now has 10 points in his past nine playoff outings. It goes without saying but the Leafs will need more of that from their No. 1 D if they have any aspirations of doing substantial here.
Collectively, you can make a case for Game 2 being the Core Four’s best postseason outing as a unit. Again, it’s not just about the point totals either. From the opening face-off, you could tell Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and William Nylander were playing for keeps and were ready to right a wrong after whatever that was on Tuesday night. In total, the quartet of forwards combined for 10 points —led, of course, by the captain’s hat trick. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? Honestly, the only thing missing was an Auston Matthews goal, which I’m sure will come over the weekend in Tampa.
Staying true to form, Ilya Samsonov delivered big-time in Game 2 following his horrific Game 1 outing. The biggest thing I noticed was his rebound control. More times than not, it was one and done for Tampa, a far cry from the story on Tuesday night. Additionally, Obviously, the team in front of him was much better, too. They deserve a lot of credit. Even though Samsonov needed to make just 19 stops, a lot of them were momentum shifters, especially early on in the first period.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT:
With the series tied 1-1, the scene now shifts to Tampa for the next two games starting with Game 3 on Saturday night at Amalie Arena.
Recent articles from Nick Alberga