Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews became a better offensive threat by improving his defense and embracing a 200-foot game.
Matthews was exceptional in all three zones in the Leafs’ 2-1 victory over the Bruins in Game 5 of their best of seven opening round Stanley Cup series. The Leafs took a 3-2 lead and can eliminate Boston with a victory on Sunday afternoon (3) at Scotiabank Arena.
“I thought this was his best 200-footer of the playoffs,” said Toronto coach Mike Babcock. “He was outstanding, he was involved in so many breakouts.
“You have to learn how to do that. I thought he played great and I was impressed with him and I was proud of him.”
Matthews has reaped the benefits of his two-way game when compared with last year’s seven-game, first round series loss to Boston. Matthews with a nonfactor with two points, a disappointment that became a game changer.
In five games this series, Matthews is the leading goal scorer with four that included the Leafs’ opener at 11:33 of the third. Matthews was awarded the game’s No. 1 star for his performance.
“I think that has been huge for me and tonight all five guys were working as a five man unit,” said Matthews. “We were breaking out clean and just being in a good spot for the D and was the biggest thing.
“Getting to the right spot and letting them know you are there to get you the puck. I want the puck as much as possible and getting it and moving it and that gets all of us going in the offensive zone.”
Matthews broke the deadlock with the finishing touch on a spectacular collaboration with line mate Kasperi Kapanen and defenseman Jake Muzzin at 11:33 of the third.
Kapanen fed Muzzin at the left point while the Bruins retreated to protect the front of the net. Muzzin skated into the left circle as Matthews retreated unchallenged into the right circle near the dot.
Muzzin sold the slapper, made a quick pass through the slot to Matthews who one-timed inside the near post on goalie Tuukka Rask’s glove side.
“That was an amazing play and they do a good job just keeping guys and in tight and I was just trying to find an open space,” said Matthews. “He made an unbelievable pass to me and I tried to get it on net and it went through.”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy challenged the validity of Matthews’ tally on the supposition that Zach Hyman was guilty of goalie interference. After a lengthy review, the referees awarded Matthews his goal, much to the dismay of the Garden crowd.
“I was just praying they were going to call it a goal,” said Matthews. “You have a lot going through your mind there and I haven’t had the best of luck as far as those (reviews) go over my career.
“It was nice to kind of get one back and I’ll take one in the playoffs any day of the week as opposed to the regular season.”