TORONTO – Auston Matthews summed up life under the microscope in hockey’s biggest market with a few succinct sentences.
“The highs can get real high here,” he said Saturday. “And the lows can get real low.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to take a step back and take a breath.”
The Maple Leafs did that in the midst of an early swoon. Now they’re reaping the benefits — thanks in large part to the big guns up front.
Matthews and John Tavares had two goals apiece as Toronto picked up a fifth consecutive victory with an impressive 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins.
The Leafs had lost four straight, were sitting with a 2-4-1 record, and trailed the lowly Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 on the road after the first period Oct. 27 before storming back for a 3-2 overtime decision that kickstarted this run.
But head coach Sheldon Keefe pointed to a 4-1 setback against the high-flying Carolina Hurricanes two nights earlier as the moment Toronto began to show signs of getting its swagger back.
“I thought our team would grow through that experience, and it’s been incremental,” he said. “It took time in Chicago for things to really turn and start to come, but since then there’s been incremental growth in our team and things have started to fall into place.
“We’ve shown belief to just stay with it. We’ve been talking about it for a long time. Every team talks about it, just how important it is to keep the belief in the room, block out the noise.”
Mitch Marner added an empty netter and had three assists for Toronto (7-4-1), while Jack Campbell made 40 saves. Morgan Rielly chipped in with two assists of his own. Tavares also had an assist for a three-point night.
The highly paid, four-headed offensive monster of Matthews, Tavares, Marner and William Nylander have scored Toronto’s last 13 goals, and have combined for 32 points during the five-game surge.
“Good preparation, good mindset, and just continue to compete,” Tavares said of what’s clicked. “Good things are happening.”
Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak replied for Boston (5-4-0), which got 31 stops from Linus Ullmark. Brad Marchand had two assists.
“We’ve got to create our identity where we’re hard to play against for 60 minutes,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Not 30, 20, 40 … whatever it is.
“It’s got to be 60.”
Toronto and Boston suited up against one another for the first time since Nov. 15, 2019 — a stretch of more than 720 days — when the Bruins picked up a 4-2 victory at Scotiabank Arena towards the end of the Mike Babcock era.
Tied 1-1 late in the second period, Toronto’s power play stayed hot by connecting for a fourth straight game. Marner moved into the offensive zone and fed a pass to Matthews, who saw the puck go off his skate, Ullmark’s pad and bounce back on his stick for him to bury his fifth goal of the season with 5:01 left.
Marchand then took a penalty for high-sticking on Leafs defenceman Timothy Liljegren with 1:57 remaining in the period to send the home side back on the man advantage.
Matthews promptly made Boston pay when he blasted a one-timer from the right faceoff circle on Ullmark with 66 seconds left on the clock to make it 3-1.
“We haven’t really changed much,” Rielly said of a power play that’s now 5 for 10 following a 0-for-17 stretch. “It’s just a matter of sticking with it, working through any kind of confusion that we have.
“A good step in the right direction.”
The Bruins and their ninth-ranked man advantage got a chance early in the third, with Patrice Bergeron and Hall coming close.
But Tavares came out of the penalty box and led Toronto’s counter before scoring off a Nylander setup for his second goal of the night and team-leading sixth overall at 2:53.
The Bruins got one back at 8:29 when Pastrnak fired his third, but Campbell and the Leafs held firm before Marner scored into the empty net to secure Toronto’s fifth consecutive victory — and second straight against an Atlantic Division heavyweight following Thursday’s 2-1 overtime triumph against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Two really, really good teams,” said Matthews, whose club wraps up a five-game homestand Monday versus the Los Angeles Kings. “This whole week was a really good challenge for us.
“We answered it pretty well.”
Boston, which bounced Toronto from the first round of the playoffs in both 2018 and 2019, opened the scoring on a power play at 8:37 of the first after Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin was whistled for delay of game on a battle that saw Campbell’s net knocked off its moorings.
Coming off a four-goal performance Thursday in a 5-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, Bergeron took the one-timer that Hall tipped past Campbell for his third.
Toronto tied things up at 12:21 on a strange play that required a lengthy video review when Marner’s shot was tipped in tight by Tavares for his fifth of the campaign — and fourth in the last five games.
The Boston net was dislodged before the puck crossed the line, but the goal stood after the officials ruled Bergeron caused the displacement, and the puck would have entered the goal under normal circumstances.
“I learned a little bit about how the rule works when these nets comes off,” Keefe said with a smile. “I was a little unsure about that.
“You don’t see those type of plays happen very often, but obviously great that it worked out for us.”
Now with a spring in their step, the Leafs will look to continue to build — and remain focused.
“This is a big win,” Keefe said. “(But) just like we needed to block the noise when things weren’t going well, it’s equally as important that we do it now.”
As Matthews would say, take a step back and breathe.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2021.
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