Leafs’ Matthews leads his team, evens playoff series against Canadiens


Toronto ended a nine-game post-season losing streak to Montreal — their last win coming in the Cup-clinching sixth game of the 1967 final.

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It took two games during the regular season for Toronto’s Auston Matthews to score. And then, he did it 40 more times to lead the NHL.

Coincidentally, the Maple Leafs’ centre waited until the second period of the second game of the North Division playoff series against the Canadiens to score on Saturday night.

Matthews produced the winning goal, five minutes into the period, then added two more assists in the Leafs’ 5-1 victory over Montreal at Scotiabank Arena, evening the best-of-seven series 1-1.

It was Matthews’ second career three-point playoff game, and it also ended Toronto’s nine-game post-season losing streak to the Canadiens — Toronto’s last win coming in the Stanley Cup-clinching sixth game of the 1967 final.

Matthews played a complete game, registering four shots and four hits during his 22 minutes, 37 seconds of ice time. And he was dominant in the circle, winning 80 per cent of his faceoffs.

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He played like the Leafs’ best player — which he is. That’s what’s expected of the 23-year-old.

“The best way to describe his game was very complete,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He was competitive. He was physical on the puck. He made plays and scored a huge goal for us. He played with all sorts of authority and was strong on faceoffs.

“No question, Auston was a real difference-maker.”

As superb as he is on the ice, Matthews can be laconic during interviews, while speaking in a monotone. He addresses the media because it’s required. Perhaps he’ll improve as he gets older and matures?

“The response from the group was unbelievable tonight,” he said. “All four lines really worked tonight. We did a better job in the neutral zone of slowing them down and forechecked well. They (the Canadiens) have a lot of speed.

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“I try to play hard every night. Obviously going down (one game) this was a bit of a do or die game for us. Everybody stepped up.”

Matthews had that right.

His linemate, Mitch Marner, did what he does best — make plays — and contributed two assists. Nick Foligno moved from the wing to centre, replacing injured captain John Tavares, who suffered a concussion and knee injury on Thursday. While Foligno didn’t register a point, he had three shots, two hits and won 81 per cent of his faceoffs. And winger William Nylander, playing without Tavares on his line, had a goal and assist.

After the Canadiens opened the scoring for the second consecutive game, on a goal by Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Leafs responded with five unanswered goals, the last coming into an empty net.

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The ageless Jason Spezza, at 37, scored the tying goal barely four minutes following Kotkaniemi’s tally.

“For sure, you want to respond,” he said. “You don’t want to let the game get away from you. They’re a team that plays well with the lead. The quicker we can tie the game up, it levels things and allows us to play our game. It was good to have a response.

“That’s very characteristic of how we’ve been all year,” Spezza continued. “I thought it was a big response. We got going as a team once we got a couple in the net, and really started to play good hockey.”

The Canadiens at one point took six successive minor penalties, including all four assessed in the second period. Toronto scored the only two goals of the period, while outshooting the visitors, 20-6. One of the goals, by defenceman Rasmus Sandin, came on the power-play, which failed to capitalize on four opportunities in the opening game, while allowing a shorthanded goal — the winner, by Paul Byron.

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“I thought we had the puck for the entire second period for the most part,” Keefe said. “That caused some fatigue on the other side. We were able to get at them that way. That was a big factor.”

Keefe said he wasn’t surprised to see the penalty total tilted one way, given how physical the Canadiens have vowed to play.

“Montreal’s made it clear, they want to be very physical,” he said. “The term (used) is they want to make it a war. If you’re going to do that, you’re at risk of getting penalties called against you. It’s our job as a power-play to make them pay for that.”

The Leafs added a second power-play goal, by Nylander, in the third period, giving them a 4-1 lead and erasing doubts of a Canadiens comeback.

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HerbZurkowsky1

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