Auston Needs To Pick It Up

TORONTO (May 8) — Can the Toronto Maple Leafs dethrone the Tampa Bay Lightning in their first–round playoff series with Auston Matthews a marginal figure? It is every bit a rhetorical question.

Yet, only one of many that should disturb the Leafs and their fans after the first real sh** show of the best–of–seven clash. The Lightning inflated the 7–3 final score on Sunday night with a pair of empty net goals, but the four–goal spread was more indicative of Tampa Bay’s edge in performance. Most critically for the Leafs is that Matthews has but two goals thus far in the series. Which isn’t nearly good enough. Yeah, he’s getting some looks and there may be a smidgen of truth that all the penalties have disrupted his rhythm. Bottom line, however, is that Matthews — lauded all season for his scoring exploits, unparalleled in Leafs franchise history — needs to be the best skater on the ice. Which he may have been for part of Game 1. That’s it. There’s nothing more to say about Auston. We’re now into the “show me” juncture of the playoff round; a best–of–three with the Leafs having theoretical home–ice advantage. As a likely finalist for the Hart Trophy (while winning the Rocket Richard Trophy for a second year), Matthews absolutely must display to the hockey world, in the coming week, that he is truly among the best players in the world. No. 34 needs to assume control of this opening round, as all the legitimately great athletes have done through the Stanley Cup decades… first, by leading the way at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday night with at least one important, timely goal; then with some form of coup de grace either in Game 6 or 7.

The Maple Leafs cannot move on with the league’s most–prolific scorer a borderline factor.


Neither, under any circumstance, is this putting too much pressure on Matthews, now appearing in his sixth playoff year. It’s high time for him to start carrying the Maple Leafs in big games; not just being one threat among many. We’ve watched through the years as Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov and others have risen above the fray as the playoff slog intensifies. The Leafs do not have such dominant a defender as Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo or Victor Hedman — Stanley Cup winners in the past decade. Morgan Rielly is better than average for Toronto, but not in the all–world category. As such, goaltending and scoring need to prevail, as through much of the record–setting, 82–game schedule. Though victimized on Sunday by turnovers from veteran blueliners Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl, Campbell couldn’t make an important, early save. Nor could any of Toronto’s big guns up front bail him out (William Nylander scored twice in garbage time).

That has to end, starting on Tuesday night. Almost never in his first half–dozen playoff springs has Matthews been the determining factor for the Maple Leafs. His reputation as a big–time performer in the regular season — and a peripheral figure in the playoffs — will gain a boat–load of steam if he cannot pick up the pace in the next five–to–seven nights. Not just marginally, but largely and noticeably. He absolutely must be the player that everyone is talking about for a virtuoso effort in Game 5. Yes, the playoff hardened Lightning will have something to say about that, but all opponents have tried, and failed, to stop the genuine stars of Stanley Cup history. Matthews has yet to place himself even close to that group. Without question, he has all the ability in the world, with a shot that ranks at the top among current National Hockey Leaguers… and any of the all–time greats in Maple Leafs history.

We’ll soon discover whether he can finally summon the drive and conviction to be among the best.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

7 comments on “Auston Needs To Pick It Up

  1. If Toronto doesn’t make the Cup finals, there is a high probability that either Barry Trotz or John Tortorella will be coaching the Blue & White next year.
    I’m still hopeful that Toronto will somehow prevail but after watching them getting walloped in game-4 doubt is beginning to creep in.
    Toronto pressed Tampa into the corner in game-3 with a fantastic game plan so I’m not sure Keefe choose to deviate away in game-4. The move appears to be a rookie mistake and with Keefe no longer being a rookie it appears he’s on the other side of the coaching shelf life.

  2. Same old same old — Maple Leaf Sports just keeps raking in the money who needs to win? The stock holders. Maple laughs need a strong and success driven body like the Toronto Raptors have, then and only then will there be success or accountability

  3. While the Leafs still have time to turn this series around, one has difficulty believing that this group has that ability. IMHO, it starts at the top with the President, and includes the GM and the coach. They seem unable to get this team to play with the commitment and tenacity required to win in the playoffs. I watched Sid Crosby skate through the Rangers with 3 players on his back and score the other night. Pittsburgh is using their 3rd goalie. Both the Capitals and the Bruins are playing hard against opponents who arguably are at least as good as Tampa. Enough is enough. I hope the team proves me wrong and wins this series in 6 games, but I am dubious they can pull it off.

  4. Many of the radio show pundits on both networks in Toronto have been criticizing guys like me who have become cynical of this organization and this core. I have been barked at repeatedly by these hosts, I have been told to “wake up” and see that this team has “turned a corner”, and that this team can “beat any team in this league”. Sure they can, on any given night, maybe even for a few games. BUT, over a seven game series in the playoffs, it is a totally different animal, a setting where this core just does not do well. I have said it to many of my friends many times – this team is not built for playoff hockey success. Every year at locker clean out time, the Toronto fans are promised change (without changing the core), they are promised that this team has learned from their mistakes and have finally gained a “killer instinct”. Yet time and time again when this core has the chance to put their foot on the throats of a team, they not only do not take advantage, but as seen tonight, they actually blow it in style – Leafs style – a croaker of a no show game where given the chance to show their character, the team farts around and farts away another glorious opportunity. Give a team like Tampa a chance to breath, they’re gonna become larger than life. Tampa and coach Jon Cooper know what to do and how to get it done. The Leafs, sadly, are still – just the same old Leafs. One chance to break the narrative, otherwise, this will hopefully be the last straw for this entire coaching and management team, and this core. That performance tonight was an inexcusable absolute disgrace with everything that has been on the line and has transpired the last many years.

    1. It’s truly hard to believe how John Tavares’ skills have diminished so quickly since signing his contract with the Leafs. There is nobody who can honestly say he would be this bad. The Leafs are stuck with that contract. As you said, this team is not built for playoff hockey and it amazes me why a smart player like Shanahan doesn’t get it with all his playoff experience. The Leafs aren’t winning this series. They look dejected and don’t have that killer instinct to finish off an opponent.

      1. Leaf apologists will beg to differ. They don’t seem to understand that there is a pattern of behavior here, and it comes down to this core

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