It’s something that seems even taller than an athlete up to the task.
The player is the opportunity.
Victor Hedman did it in the 2020 bubble (and, heck, he could do it again). Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both did. Alex Ovechkin’s 2018 edition is a prime example. The same goes for the 2019 Ryan O’Reilly.
Suddenly and sadly at the top center of the Maple Leafs about 55 km away, Auston Matthews made a statement on Saturday playing hockey like a controlled tornado.
“I think Auston was our best player,” said Jason Spezza.
Not only did Matthews factor in three of Toronto’s second game goals, and not only did he score all three Toronto postseason game winners in 2020 and 2021, but Matthews generated 23 shot attempts in 120 minutes. and constantly tilted the ice. the direction of Carey Price – one of his most frequent victims.
After his debut Rocket Richard Trophy and 12 league top winners and 31 evenly matched goals in the regular season, production is to be expected at this point.
But it was Matthews’ selfless defensive commitment and physical imposition in the sport that marked a further step in his rise. In Games 1 and 2, Matthews threw nine hits, stole six pucks and was a beast in the circle, making 58.7% of his faceoffs.
“The best way to describe it is just very comprehensive. Extremely competitive, physical on the puck, made plays, scored a huge goal for us, played with all kinds of authority, strong in the faceoff. There was really nothing he didn’t have extremely well done, ”coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game.
“There’s no question that Auston really made a difference.”
Whether it’s finishing corner checks with the 220 pounds, bowling Brendan Gallagher on open ice, or laughing at Ben Chiarot’s attempts at antagonism, Matthews’ aggression now fits his frame. .
“It’s huge – every time you have a superstar like the one playing a full 200-footer game, playing physically,” Zach Bogosian said on Sunday, before flying to Montreal for Game 3.
“He proved that he is a clear goalscorer and that he is going to score huge goals for us. But just to see him physically engaged. He’s a big guy who, when he plays this intense, bleeds a bit in the group. You can see how competitive he is, and that’s a trickle down effect. It’s awesome to see. “
Alex Galchenyuk added: “It definitely sets the tone for the team and brings a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm. “
Matthews pulls penalties and makes Montreal pay for them, smiling all the time.
Absolutely, we might be flirting with the hyperbole here.
Toronto won just one game. The series is tied. There’s plenty of time to sort it out, as Leafs fans know. A man cannot win everything, as hockey fans know.
Nikita Kucherov of Tampa, Connor Hellebuyck of Winnipeg, Marc-Andre Fleury of Vegas and Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado have also all left for dominant heats in their respective heats.
What separates Matthews’ man-on-mission approach, however, is that he sets off a scrutinized franchise that hasn’t seen Round Two since. Anchorman was in theaters. (Ironic mustaches are so back they might not even be ironic anymore.)
Plus, the guy is 23 and just finished his best regular season.
The playoff superstar would be the natural evolution here, right?
In truth, Matthews showed signs of post-season stud as a rookie, when he scored four times against the Washington Capitals in 2017.
As dire as the return to play of 2020 has been for the Leafs, some might forget how much the blame lay on Matthews’ boots.
Matthews was on the verge of a signature run in the bubble, leading the Maple Leafs in goals (two), points (six) and evenly matched points (four) when they were ousted five games by Columbus. He scored the winner of both Toronto bubble wins and averaged 25 minutes of ice time.
Defensive stallion Matthews was the only positive player on the list last summer. He also tied Zach Hyman for the team lead in hits (10) and topped everyone in takeout (10) and faceoff percentage in the offensive zone (57.1% ). He even placed second, behind Alexander Kerfoot, among the Leafs forwards in blocked shots (eight), although he was not used on the penalty spot.
Later, Matthews would give the Blue Jackets series the impetus to embrace the physical element of the game.
Auston Matthews is playing his best hockey, and it coincides with the most important time of the year.
“He’s not doing it for recognition or anything,” Keefe said. “He does it because that’s what it takes to win.”
While the Canadiens have only scored three goals in two games, don’t be surprised to see 20-year-old phenomenon Cole Caufield making his playoff debut this week. “His shot is as good as anyone’s shot,” Kulak said. … Neither Carey Price nor Jack Campbell have played in both halves of a consecutive season. Campbell skipped Friday practice for the interview. It will be fascinating if we see Frederik Andersen and / or Jake Allen start Game 4 on Tuesday. … Both teams skipped practice Sunday to rest for back to back. … Joel Edmundson expects the series to only get more physical, but believes the Habs need to be smarter with stick penalties. The referees have warned both clubs against brackets and slashes, but it’s okay to see the body checks completed. “In a playoff series, some games you will find hatred for the other team,” said Edmundson. “Last night was one of those games. … Shea Weber was fined $ 5,000 for cross-checking Wayne Simmonds in Game 2.