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Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs’ 3 Stars: 1 Year Older, 1 Year Better & Much More Driven

The Toronto Maple Leafs will be tougher to eliminate this season because their young stars are different. In what ways?

Last season, Matthews, Marner, and Nylander were skilled, smart, and 22-years-old, 23-years-old, and 24-years-old. This season they’re more skilled, smarter, and are 23-years-old, 24-years-old, and 25-years-old. That year makes a huge difference. All three are different, more mature, and stronger players today than they were last August when they were beaten out of the playoffs.

Related: How Soon Before Rasmus Sandin Is the Maple Leafs Best Defenseman?

It Won’t Be So Easy This Season to Eliminate the Maple Leafs

This season, they won’t go so easily be pushed out of the playoffs. That’s because all three have grown more radically in one area than the others. And that’s an area that counts just as much, if not more. They are more driven and more determined to win.

Fortunately, the Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas has given them the best chance they’ve had since they’ve been with the team to advance in the playoffs by building a stronger team around them than they’ve ever had since the three of them showed up on the Maple Leafs’ roster.

How Has Matthews Done in Three Playoff Games?

So far during three Stanley Cup series playoff games with the between the Montreal Canadiens, the Canadiens won Game 1 by a score of 2-1, the Maple Leafs came roaring back to take Game 2 by a score of 5-1, and the Maple Leafs went up two games to one with a 2-1 win on Monday.

Maple Leafs Auston Matthews @reebeccathomson
Maple Leafs Auston Matthews photo by @reebeccathomson

Although Matthews didn’t register a point in either Game 1 or Game 3, his solid play during all three games has pushed his team to a series lead. Interestingly, during 12 games against the Canadiens this season, Matthews has only been kept off the score sheet during two games – both have been in this series.

To me, the Canadiens looked like they’ve built a team defense to stop Matthews; and, to a degree it’s worked. That changed during Game 2 when Matthews scored three points (one goal and two assists). Matthews now has three points in three playoff games.

Matthews was physical, dishing out four hits to go along with his game-winning, five-on-five goal and his power-play assists on Rasmus Sandin’s and William Nylander’s markers. Matthews also fared well in the face-off circle. During Game 1 he was 11-15; during Game 2 he was 16-4; and, during Game 3 he was 15-12.

How Has Marner Done in Three Playoff Games?

Similar to Matthews, Marner didn’t score during Game 1. But he registered two assists (one on a power play) during the team’s 5-1 Game 2 win. One assist came on Matthews’ game-winning goal during the second period and the second came on Sandin’s goal that was the insurance the team needed.

Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs

During Game 3, Marner had the primary assist on Morgan Rielly’s goal. But perhaps the best thing about Marner’s playoffs this season is that he’s seemed quiet even though he’s averaged a point-a-game. A breakout game would be a great benefit to his Maple Leafs.

How Has Nylander Done in Three Playoff Games?

Perhaps the surprise of the first three games of the playoffs has been Nylander. Not only did he score the team’s only goal during the first game, but he also laid a solid hit just before the goal to spark his team. He’s been more physically involved recently, and his play has picked up.

Nylander’s solid play during Game 2 also suggests that he came into the playoffs ready to play tough hockey. For three games, he’s been one of the best players on the ice for either team – perhaps outside each team’s goalies.

In the three games he’s played during this postseason, he’s scored a goal in all three. He also picked up a Game 2 assist, which gives him three goals and an assist in the first three playoff games. He’s obviously the team’s leading scorer for the series.

All three players are a year older, a year better, and a ton more driven. Maple Leafs’ fans probably expected it from Matthews and Marner: they’ve been trending that way since they entered the NHL. But the more puzzling growth of Nylander has been the team’s biggest and most pleasant surprise.

Nylander had a great second-half of the regular season. He’s playing more determined hockey and seems less prone to any inconsistencies that plagued him earlier in his career.

Related: Tavares Sends Message to Leafs Fans and Team After Scary Injury

Together These Young Forwards Are Leading the Team Forward

Together these three young stars – especially with the fourth core Maple Leafs’ forward John Tavares healing from his concussion and leg injury – are giving the team every chance to advance to the second round of the North Division playoffs. If they do, they’ll play against the surprising Winnipeg Jets who swept the favored Edmonton Oilers in the second game of the North Division double-header tonight.

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