Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews breaks out in big way

TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 07: Auston Matthews
TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 07: Auston Matthews /

Auston Matthews scored a trademark goal in Game 3, to put the Toronto Maple Leafs up 3-2. His eventual game-winner proves how important he is to getting his team back on track. 

Heading into Game 3, a lot was made of Auston Matthews‘ scoring “slump” as he was shut down by Patrice Bergeron’s line. He was getting some chances, but for the most part, the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ franchise centre was silenced.

That is until Mike Babcock was able to get Tomas Plekanec to go up against Bergeron, which allowed Matthews to get some much-needed breathing room. You could see his confidence growing with every shift, as he finessed his way around the defence.

It did not hurt that there was a lot of positive energy coming from Leafs Nation, as the Air Canada Centre was as loud as ever throughout the game.

A lot of pressure was put on Matthews to produce for the team and when he couldn’t in Games 1 and 2, that pressure mounted. Scoring the crucial goal to put the Leafs ahead relieved some weight off his shoulders, as seen by his celebration.

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Zach Hyman is often seen as the physical player on that line. While this is true, it doesn’t mean that Matthews and William Nylander can’t hold their own.

They’re both capable of absorbing contact and are willing to deliver some hits. People just don’t see them get physical, because they always have the puck.

With hockey emphasizing more on speed and skill, it is important for the defensive tactics to evolve as well.

Finishing checks are great, but a more efficient way to turn the puck over is stick-checking. Both Matthews and Nylander are strong on their sticks and constantly trying to lift everyone else’s. That’s how they keep getting neutral zone turnovers and creating dangerous odd-man rushes.

You know that Matthews is on his game when he is not only an offensive threat, but also a defensive nightmare (for the other team).

Next: Frederik Andersen gets redemption in Game 3

If the Leafs want to go on a long playoff run, they will need their star centre to step up. His goal on Monday night can be a turning point for the young phenom. With the pressure gone and the confidence injected into his veins, he has the potential to go on another playoff tear.