There’s no doubt in my mind that a game like tonight was exactly what Maple Leafs’ president Brendan Shanahan and Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas had in mind when they signed the Core Four to the contracts that they did. Tonight, the Core Four showed up big.
As Maple Leafs’ fans know well, the Core Four of the Maple Leafs includes Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares. This group eats up much of the team’s salary cap, and many Maple Leafs fans believe it’s unworkable having this much of the salary cap designated to too few players. Can’t win; however, it was the team’s philosophy to solidify the roster and the lineup around these key players.
After going behind 2-o in the crucial Game 5 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Core Four led the team back t0 a 4-3 victory and a 3-2 game lead in the series.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ takeaways, I’ll comment on the events of the game. I’ll also look forward to what these events might mean going forward into the near future.
As it stands, Maple Leafs must win one of two games to successfully escape the first round of a playoff series for the first time since 2004. And, if they did so, they’d beat the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. That would be an accomplishment.
The Lightning team is far from a pushover. In fact, they’re playing like Stanley Cup champions. It’s just that, at least last night, this year’s iteration of the Maple Leafs’ team comes with pushback. It was a good win for the Blue and White.
Takeaway One: William Nylander Drives Fans Crazy, Then Thrills with Skill
William Nylander had a three-point game tonight and it couldn’t have come at a better time. He scored a goal and added two assists on the Maple Leafs’ first three goals of the game. He touched the puck on each of the team’s first three goals.
By the way, as noted before, each of the Core Four of Nylander, Matthews, Marner, and Tavares played a part in this win. As noted, Nylander put together a three-point night. Tavares scored; and, Marner and Matthews combined on the game-winning goal. and Morgan Rielly into the third period before putting in a goal of his own against Andrei Vasilevskiy to give the Maple Leafs a 3-2 lead.
Nylander now has up to five total points in this series. He was named the first star on the night for the Maple Leafs.
Takeaway Two: Auston Matthews Scored the Game Winner
Given my heading, of course, I’m going to talk about Auston Matthews’ game-winning goal. However, first I must say that the Matthews I watched on the ice tonight was a hitting machine. It was the most physical game I can recall seeing Matthews play. He seemed to be engaging in the tussling – going toe to toe, or chin to chin – all game long. He wasn’t backing down.
However, as shown above Matthews did what he does best. He scored the game-winning goal with just under seven minutes left in regulation. Although the Lightning tried to mount a comeback, it wasn’t that overwhelming tonight. The Maple Leafs looked like they were going to win, and they did.
Matthews has now scored three goals and added four assists (for seven points in the series). Can he do it again in Game 6 on Thursday?
Takeaway Three: Thanks to Jason Spezza for the Pep Talk
Jack Campbell saved all but three of the 35 shots he faced during Tuesday’s 4-3 win over the Lightning. However, he had to spot the Lightning two goals before he started playing with confidence. At first, it looked like it was going to be a long and ugly night after Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman scored first-period goals to push the Lightning went up to a 2-0 lead.
After his team had gone down those two goals, Jason Spezza came to Campbell during a time out and gave the young (in terms of experience) goalie an encouraging talking to. After that, and it might have been a coincidence, Campbell looked solid all night long.
Campbell’s game helped lift his team to within one game of eliminating the back-to-back champs. It was a great comeback and a solid win for the Blue and White.
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