Nick Goss

Bruins can't afford to allow Matthews, Leafs' stars to take over series

Matthews took over Game 2. The Bruins must prevent him from taking over the series in Game 3.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took the home ice advantage in their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Boston Bruins with an impressive 3-2 win in Monday night's Game 2 at TD Garden.

Will they take control of the series Wednesday night with another victory on home ice in Game 3?

If it's going to happen, the Leafs' superstars need to lead the way. After a bad Game 1 for the Core Four (minus the injured William Nylander), Game 2 saw this group mostly bounce back in a significant way.

Auston Matthews led the way with an MVP-caliber performance. He picked up assists on the Leafs' first two goals, then scored the game-winner at 12:06 of the third period when he beat Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark on a breakaway.

Matthews tallied three points, eight shots, six hits and went 16-of-23 in the faceoff circle. Scoring chances were 13-4 in favor of the Leafs during Matthews' 5-on-5 ice time. It was a dominant effort by one of the league's top 10 players.

"Auston with a goal and two assists. He's all over the stat sheet tonight, in so many ways he's affected the game positively for us," Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after Game 2. "But to me, just the way he worked, the way he competed, he was hard and physical winning puck battles all over the ice."

The real question is whether he can do it again in Game 3. There are reasons to believe he can.

For starters, the Leafs will have last line change as the home team, which will allow Keefe to play the matchup game and get Matthews on the ice against Boston's weakest defense pairing as much as possible. Matthews saw a lot of Brandon Carlo and Hampus Lindholm in Games 1 and 2. In Game 3, it could be Kevin Shattenkirk and Parker Wotherspoon (who could enter the lineup for an injured Andrew Peeke). Matthews vs. Shattenkirk and Wotherspoon is not an ideal scenario for Boston.

Matthews also has been tremendous at home in his playoff career. He has scored 14 goals and 31 points in 26 career postseason matchups at Scotiabank Arena. He has nine goals and 16 points in 26 career road playoff games. Matthews also tallies more shots and is better in the faceoff circle at home.

The last time the Leafs played the Bruins in the playoffs was the first round in 2019. Matthews scored in each Leafs home game (four goals in total) during that series.

John Tavares also woke up in Game 2 after a lackluster outing in the series opener. His power-play goal late in the second period tied the score at two and gave the Leafs some much-needed momentum entering the third period.

That tally snapped a six-game playoff goal drought for the Leafs captain. Will it help spark a resurgence for him as the series shifts to Toronto?

Another huge question mark is whether Mitch Marner can get going at home. The superstar right wing finished the regular season with 85 points in 69 games. He has scored above a point-per-game rate for six consecutive seasons.

He has been held without a point in this series and has made little impact overall. The local media in Toronto has been pretty critical of Marner since the series started. But he's fully capable of erupting at any time given his elite two-way ability.

The fact that the series is tied when the Leafs' best players didn't show up in Game 1, Marner has been subpar both games and William Nylander -- a 40-goal guy and the Leafs' leading power-play scorer this season -- hasn't played at all due to injury, is a pretty good situation for Toronto entering Game 3.

The Leafs are a high-powered offensive team. They will go as far as the Core Four takes them. If the Bruins win, or stay relatively even, in their matchups against these forwards, they likely will win the series.

Toronto has a massive 76-38 edge in scoring chances and a 34-15 lead in high-danger chances in all situations through two games. The ice has been tilted in the Leafs' favor most of the series, with Matthews serving as the engine driving that success. The Bruins have survived this onslaught so far thanks to a robust power play and their goalies playing fantastic through two games.

If the Bruins don't find a way to limit the Leafs' Grade A scoring chances, it will be tough for them to win this series unless Swayman and/or Ullmark play lights out. It's possible that could happen -- they are the league's best goaltending tandem -- but it's not the ideal (or easiest) path to victory.

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