2) Toronto Maple Leafs’s big four beginning to alter the narrative
When the Blue Jackets took their 3-0 lead with just under six minutes remaining in the third, Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe knew he had to throw caution to the wind. As such, he pulled Frederik Andersen so he could bring in an extra forward.
What was significant about this was that Matthews, Tavares, Nylander and Mitch Marner were all on the ice together. This was a fitting scenario, If Friday night was to be the final game of the 2019-20 season for the Leafs.
The big four have been polarising in some respects, cited as both the reason the Leafs can and won’t win the Stanley Cup in the foreseeable future. This is because the talent is undeniable, but still constitutes four players taking up essential half of the team’s salary cap.
When you’re making so much money you are expected to deliver, something which only Matthews has done consistently during this play-in series. The superstar centre has recorded two goals and four assists, although this only scratches the surface of how well he has played throughout the four games.
The same cannot be said of Tavares, Marner and Nylander however. Entering Friday night, the trio had combined for just four points through three games, which just wasn’t acceptable.
If the Leafs had lost on Friday night, there would have been serious questions about if this core roster was good enough to get the job done. In some respects, they were possibly playing for their collective future in Toronto.
In fairness to the big four though, with the Leafs’ season seemingly over, they answered the call. By the end of the night they had combined for 10 points — including three assists from Marner — to fully showcase what they were capable of when they were on their game.
When the team needed them most, Matthews, Tavares, Marner and Nylander collectively stepped up and proved themselves in what was essentially a playoff scenario in all but name. The question now becomes if this was just a fleeting moment — a perfect storm if you will — or the start of something special?