As the Toronto Maple Leafs prepare for their matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets, we look at four storylines which will help determine the series.
It’s nearly time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to meet their date with destiny. First up is an exhibition game versus the Montreal Canadiens on July 28, but then the real action begins.
The Leafs are preparing to face the Columbus Blue Jackets, in a best-of-five play-in series. The winners will advance to the first round proper of the playoffs.
There are any number of factors which can influence the outcome of the series between Toronto and Columbus. With this in mind, here are four storylines which will help determine whether or not the Leafs qualify for the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season:
4) Will Auston Matthews step up in a pressure situation?
We appreciate some people will wonder what we mean about Auston Matthews stepping up in a pressure situation. After all, we’re talking about a franchise centre and supreme ability who has done special things ever since joining the Leafs.
Matthews’ resume already makes for impressive reading, with accolades such as winning the Calder Memorial Trophy in his rookie year and being named to the All-Star Game in all four of his seasons in the NHL. As such, allow us to explain.
For everything Matthews has achieved to date, he’s yet to advance past the first round of the playoffs in three attempts. As much as hockey is a team game, someone as talented as the 22-year-old needs to step up and take a series by the scruff of its neck.
To date, Matthews has 13 points — 10 goals and three assists — in 20 playoff games, which simply isn’t good enough. (And yes, given the ongoing comparisons with Connor McDavid, we’re well aware the Oilers superstar didn’t exactly light it up either in his one trip to the playoffs.)
In fairness to Matthews, he’s still young and learning the game, as well as being a target opponents aim to neutralise during the playoffs. Regardless, it’s time for him to take his game to the next level, starting with the play-in series with the Blue Jackets.
It is worth noting Matthews is coming off his best regular season to date, which should theoretically augur well for the upcoming games. He would have likely hit the 50-goal mark and also set a new personal best for assists if the regular season had been completed.
However, even this promise should be approached cautiously, with the players coming off an extended break dating back to mid-March; there will probably be some rust. In addition, for Matthews specifically, you have to wonder if there will be any lingering effects after recently testing positive for COVID-19?
Matthews was recently named as one of three finalists for the Lady Byng Trophy. However, while it would be an honour for him to win the award, you suspect he would forgo it in exchange for a productive play-in series and deep run in the playoffs.