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Game in 10: Auston Matthews strengthens MVP case, another rollercoaster ride ends in Maple Leafs victory over Kraken – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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Photo:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

What started as a comfortable lead turned dicey before the Maple Leafs leaned on an Auston Matthews hat trick to beat the Seattle Kraken 6-4 on Tuesday night in Toronto.

As far as the divisional race is concerned, the Maple Leafs couldn’t afford to lose this one after dropping games to Vancouver, Montreal, and Buffalo in the last couple of weeks. They were able to get the win, although it wasn’t always pretty.

Sometimes it helps to have multiple superstars when your opponent has none.

Your game in 10:

1.  The Maple Leafs have been looking to get the power play going again, and tonight represented a step in the right direction. While they boasted the NHL’s best man-advantage entering tonight, it hadn’t scored in seven before striking off the rush against Vancouver on Saturday, and then it went zero-for-one in Columbus.

Against the Kraken, the Leafs scored three times in six attempts, with the first strike coming at the start of the game. A crisp cross-seam pass from William Nylander to Auston Matthews set up the opening tally of the game:

The second PPG was a soft one allowed by Seattle goalie Philipp Grubauer to Nylander, who beat him five-hole with not much of a screen provided at the tail-end of what had been a Leafs five-on-three:

The final PPG will be discussed more at the end of the piece, but it was a step in the right direction for Toronto’s power play, which moved the puck well — and was helped by poor goaltending in the opposition net.


2.  The first period was a very strong one for TJ Brodie, which set the tone for a night in which he really shined. Brodie showcased his passing ability in that first period with a dagger pass from the defensive zone to the opposition blue line, hitting Pierre Engvall right on the tape and setting up John Tavares for a breakaway chance, which he converted on:

Is that TJ Brodie, or Patrick Mahomes? Brodie also collected a primary assist on the Nylander PPG, and he has quietly amassed seven points in his last 11 games.

Brodie led the Leafs in TOI tonight by nearly a full two minutes, logging heavy time alongside Justin Holl tonight in the closing minutes with the lead. To their credit, that pair was stellar. Both finished at ~76% xGF% at 5v5 tonight, and the scoring chance/high-danger chance data was also really strong. The ice was tilted in Toronto’s favor with Brodie and Holl out there.


3.  The goal from John Tavares was his first at even strength since Jan. 29 against Detroit. He broke the goal-scoring drought on Saturday on the PP, but it was nice to see him finally crack through at 5v5.

Despite all the talk about the struggles of the second line, Tavares still has 14 points in his last 15 games counting tonight’s 1-1-2 line. There still need to be some changes made to that line (unless Nick Robertson really pulls through), but keeping things in perspective on a talent like Tavares is important. Even when he is slumping, he is still a mighty fine hockey player. Hopefully, two goals in his last three are positive movements toward breaking out of the slump.

One note on Robertson: I thought he was too timid to shoot the puck tonight. He was on the second power-play unit again tonight and he passed up the chance to shoot through a screen at one point that had me frustrated. Robertson seems to be focusing on the team-based aspects of the game (passing, defensive play) — which is understandable — but I’d like to see him be a bit more greedy, especially with the shot he possesses.


4.  The second period presented plenty of lowlights for the Maple Leafs as a defensive unit. Goaltending merits discussion in the first and third periods, but sandwiched in between was a very poor effort in the second that left Jack Campbell out to dry. The first goal was a rough one from the third pair of Travis Dermott and Ilya Lyubushkin — a bit of a comedown for a partnership that had posted strong underlying numbers in some of the preceding games.

Lyubushkin, in particular, ran into trouble on this play, stepping up in the offensive zone only to hammer a shot into bodies and then moving up in the neutral zone to pressure Jordan Eberle, a play that accomplishes nothing as Eberle makes an uninhibited pass. Since Lyubushkin stepped up on Eberle, he was too late to cover a streaking Alex Wennberg.

Dermott did the right thing in laying out to stop the pass, but he couldn’t get all of it, and the tardy Lyubushkin watched as Wennberg tapped in the easy goal.

Lyubushkin and Dermott graded out as the worst pair for the Leafs analytically, and you wonder if one will be bumped back out of the lineup when Rasmus Sandin returns.

The second goal allowed in the period was a shorty. William Nylander‘s brain went missing on a terrible pass after entering the zone, creating a potential odd-man rush against, and then Morgan Rielly appeared to try to do as little as possible to stop the Kraken from scoring. He neither pressured the puck carrier nor obstructed the pass across, creating a virtual 2v0.

After not allowing a shorthanded goal until the end of February, the Leafs have conceded two in eight days.


5.  Another line that deserves recognition is the checking unit of Ilya Mikheyev, David Kampf, and Pierre Engvall. Only Engvall showed up on the score sheet (the primary assist on the Tavares goal), but this line was what it has been all season when put together: a fast, aggressive unit that controls play.

They logged 7:22 TOI at 5v5 tonight and scoring chances were 6-2 for the Leafs, with the shot attempts finishing at 8-4. Keefe must keep these three together when they’re playing like this. Amid a slumping second line and a fourth line still looking to find more oomph, the checking line is clearly Toronto’s second-best right now, and that continued versus the Kraken.


6.  Now is a decent time to talk about Jack Campbell. The numbers are not kind to Campbell (again) — .867 SV% and Natural Stat Trick had him at -2.12 GSAx — but I thought the eye test cut him a bit of slack.

Those two goals mentioned in the previous point are ones that we can’t expect the goalie to stop. The other two are a bit murkier, with the “floating shot through bodies” continuing to be Toronto’s kryptonite. It struck for the fourth Kraken goal:

I think it can be simultaneously true that deflections are difficult for a goalie but also that the Leafs need their goalies to make a few more saves on deflections. The first goal, from possible trade target Carson Soucy, was a very nice shot off of a rebound that never got through to Campbell:

I’m not a goalie scout, but I think that between those two goals, you’d like Campbell to stop one of them. This wasn’t November Campbell, but it also wasn’t Full Meltdown Campbell, which at this point in the season is a win.

It’s probably best to go back to Petr Mrazek on Thursday, but it was still a step back towards composure from Campbell, as low of a bar as that is.


7.  When it came time to tie the game up in the third period, the Leafs turned to the services of their top line. Some have complained about Toronto turning into a one-line team as of late, and while it’s true they need the Tavares line to shape up, if you could pick any line in the NHL to be your “one line,” it would probably be this one.

All three of Auston MatthewsMichael Bunting, and Mitch Marner were involved in this beauty:

Those three have now combined for 20 goals in their last eight games, including four in this one. The top line played 11:21 at 5v5 tonight and shot attempts were 17-5, scoring chances were 9-3, high danger chances were 4-1, and they owned 81.9% of the xG.

They are fast, skilled, and deadly; the hockey equivalent of a chainsaw, one that no defense in the league has an answer for.


8.  Shortly after the Matthews goal tied it, the checking line drew a penalty and Mitch Marner wasted no time on the ensuing power play to give the Leafs the lead back, combining a silky toe drag to give him space around Joonas Donskoi with an accurate shot to beat Grubauer five-hole:

Marner finished the night with a goal and an assist. He’s now played 41 games since the dreadful start to the season (one point in seven games), and his production in that half-season sample is staggering: 23 goals and 38 assists for 61 points. His 1.49 points per game since October 27th ranks first in the NHL over that span, and the Leafs are 31-9-1 in those 41 games.

Marner has a legitimate shot to hit the 90-point plateau despite missing nine games and being MIA for the first seven games of the season. What he’s done since the end of October offensively, despite injury and COVID, is the best stretch of Marner’s career, scoring goals at a career-best pace and breaking games open through his passing.

This is a dominant offensive player who still brings defense and the penalty killing as a key cog on one of the league’s best lines. In other words:


9.  It feels wrong not to devote a point to Auston Matthews himself since he had a hat trick in this game. Leafs Nation has rallied around Matthews’ Hart Trophy case, and with each new game he dominates, that case only grows stronger.

Comparing a forward to a goalie is difficult when we discuss Matthews vs. Shesterkin, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Matthews is the best forward in the NHL right now. He has now scored 36 goals in his last 37 games (!) and 10 in his last eight. 

Returning to that stretch I talked about in the point on Marner, here is Matthews’ stat line since October 27: 42 goals and 32 assists for 74 points in 50 games. Over an 82 game season, that would be a 69-52-121 pace. Silly stuff.

Even if you want to include the fact he got off to a slow start because of the wrist surgery, Matthews is now fourth in the league in points this season with 75, just four back of Connor McDavid for the lead. When you remember that he plays vastly better defense than the three players in front of him (McDavid/Draisaitl/Huberdeau), the picture becomes clearer: best forward in the NHL.


10.  Last but not least, it’s time to shout out Wayne Simmons, who received his silver stick for playing his 1,000th NHL game before tonight’s contest. He reached 1,000 over the weekend, but tonight was the ceremony and it was a great occasion.

It was awesome to see Wayne’s family out on the ice and the messages from past teammates, as well as the legendary Willie O’Ree. On the ice, Simmons came very close to scoring after a great steal and pass by Alex Kerfoot, but Grubauer was able to deny the gritty veteran. He may have come up empty on the stat sheet, but Wayne was a goalscorer in our hearts tonight.


Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts


Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts


Game Highlights: Leafs 6 vs. Kraken 4

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Leafs-Lightning Was Always Going To Leave Someone Haunted – Defector

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Following their Game 6 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews said the plan for the series deciding matchup was simple. “We’ve just got to put our balls on the line and go for it,” he told reporters.

He wasn’t wrong about that, it just turns out the Lightning were also willing to risk life, limb and every other necessary appendage to get back to the Stanley Cup Final. And for the fifth-straight year in a row Toronto is being sent home after another first round knockout, losing 2-1 in fight that went down to the last minute.

This game was bound to be a punch in gut for one of these two teams with history on the mind entering Game 7: Tampa looking to win the cup for the third-straight year (the first team since the New York Islanders during their stretch from 1979 – 1983), and Toronto, well, just trying to just reach the second round for the first time since 2004. But if we want to be clerical about it, the Leafs were also searching for their first cup win since the Canadian Centennial and Lester B. Pearson was prime minister.

While the sting of this year’s exit may not be as bad as previous years for Toronto, it will linger all the same given the two chances at sending Tampa home after leading the series 3-2 after Game 5, which makes for the second season in a row they’ve blown that kind of lead.

Tampa is moving on thanks to third liner Nick Paul, who scored both goals on the evening and seemed to be everywhere he was needed on the ice Saturday night. Paul picked up his first career playoff goals in the win, which makes since he wound up on the Bolts roster after a March trade from Ottawa. Prior to Saturday he racked up just five goals and 14 points since saying goodbye to the Senators.

But his timing was much needed in a tight game where Tampa’s stars were running on an empty tank and the Leafs scorers were threatening most of the game. With two minutes left in the first period, Paul and Ross Colton took an odd man rush into the Leafs’ end, with Colton firing on goalie Jack Campbell and Paul turning the rebound for a score.

Whatever high Tampa had coming off that score was quickly deflated when Brayden Point, who scored the winning goal in overtime against the Leafs in Game 6, was injured after colliding with the boards near the end of the first period. Point had to be helped off the ice and tried to return at the beginning of the second period, barely making it one shift before heading to the bench.

The Leafs dialed it up from there, with Captain John Tavares scoring from the slot and putting the score even at 1-1. But the goal was called off on an interference call on Leafs defenseman Justin Holl, who caught Tampa’s Anthony Cirelli in a pick. But they got one that counts with just under 7 minutes left in the period, when Matthews charged across the blue line, dragging Tampa defenders with him before dishing to Morgan Rielly for the score.

But before the game could settle into a reset, just three minutes later Paul came back with a skate-to-stick combo that I can only describe in the most technical terms as “un-fucking-believable.” See for yourself:

It was fitting that Paul emerged as the latest legend of the moment for a Tampa team that has relied on group contributions during their latest run. Tampa Bay managed to keep a chunk of its players around over its title-winning seasons, and even if the regular cast aren’t taking lead, there always seems to be someone ready to step up when the moment comes.

That includes goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who played like a fortress on skates last night, stopping 30 out of 31 shots on goal, and locking in the game for the Lightning. A crucial third period power play from the Leafs seemed like it could tip the balance of the game, instead Vasilevskiy fended off six shots and had a little bit of luck with one puck that chased directly behind him, passing through the crease in the blink of an eye.

The disappointment in Toronto will be palpable, and if it wasn’t for the skeletal-hand of fate on the shoulder of this franchise always whispering dread nightmares into their ear whenever the spring comes around, Leafs fans could look at the upside. They played like the better team most of the series, and in the deciding game they outshot the defending champions 31 to 25. Maybe this was just the shit luck of the draw. Maybe this season could have been a tipping point for Toronto based off records alone: they set a team record for points (115), Mitch Marner hit a career high 97 points on the season and Matthews netted a record-setting 60 goals. Maybe they could just get the gang back together for one last heist next season. That may not be entirely likely as they have $77.451 million already on the books, with more than a few guys facing the rough questions of life after 30 on an NHL roster and Campbell entering free agency looking for a well-deserved payday. But hey, Matthews and Marner likely aren’t going anywhere, which is nice.

Tampa moves on to play the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers, the second time they face off in the last two years. The Lightning bounced them last year, so it should be another exciting series of Florida-based hockey, which is a sentence that never stops being weird to this Minnesota-born writer, no matter how good these squads are.

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Doncic helps Mavericks stun Suns with dominant performance in Game 7 – Sportsnet.ca

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PHOENIX (AP) — It was no surprise when Luka Doncic looked ready for Game 7, calmly draining his first three shots to give the Dallas Mavericks an early lead.

The stunner came over the next two hours: The top-seeded Phoenix Suns had no response.

Doncic scored 35 points, Spencer Dinwiddie added 30 and the Mavericks blitzed the Suns with a 123-90 knockout Sunday night, advancing to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2011.

“A lot of people said it would be a blowout,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said with a grin. “They were right.”

Of course, it wasn’t Dallas that was supposed to win on Sunday. The home team won the first six games of the series, but the Mavs broke through, dominating in a hostile environment from start to finish. Conversely, it was an embarrassing no-show for the playoff-tested Suns — who advanced to the NBA Finals last season with a very similar roster.

“We played all season to be in this situation,” Suns guard Chris Paul said. “It didn’t work out for us.”

The fourth-seeded Mavericks travel to face Golden State in Game 1 on Wednesday.

“I can’t get this smile off my face,” Doncic said. “I’m just really happy. Honestly, I think we deserved this.”

Doncic earned the Mavs an early lead, making his first three shots, including two 3-pointers. That helped Dallas push to a 27-17 advantage in the first quarter and a whopping 57-27 cushion at the halftime break.

Doncic and Dinwiddie, who came off the bench, combined to pour in 48 of the Mavericks’ 57 points. Doncic’s 27 points in the first half matched the Suns’ team total.

Game 7 drama? Not in the desert.

“It’s still kind of shocking,” Dinwiddie said.

Simply put, the Suns looked overwhelmed by the pressure of a Game 7. They missed shots they usually make, made bad passes they usually don’t make and looked nothing like the team that won an NBA-best 64 games during the regular season.

“That group has a lot of character and integrity and I know how bad they wanted it,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We just could not execute tonight. Couldn’t make a shot early, that messed with us a little bit and Dallas played their tails of from start to finish.”

By halftime, many Suns fans were booing at the unsightly display.

The series might have been close but the individual games usually were not. Three of the first six games were decided by at least 20 points and none of the games came down to the final possession.

Game 7 followed a similar pattern, except the team doing all the damage was the road team. The Mavs led this one by 46 points.

Doncic was fantastic, making shots from all over the floor and finishing 12 of 19 from the field, including 6 of 11 on 3s. He also got some help: Dinwiddie was stellar in the first half with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.

They became the eighth pair of teammates to score 30 points in a Game 7, the first since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2002.

Meanwhile, Phoenix’s All-Star backcourt of Paul and Devin Booker was never a factor. The 37-year-old Paul is a 12-time All-Star that has done just about everything possible in the game except win a championship.

After this setback, it’s fair to wonder if there will be many more opportunities. Booker finished with 11 points and shot 3 of 14. Paul had 10 points and four assists. The Suns shot just 37.9% from the field.

“You could see some of the pressure was on them early,” Kidd said. “They missed some shots they normally make.”

Dallas beat the odds with the win: After the Celtics defeated the Bucks earlier Sunday, the home team was 110-33 (77 per cent) in NBA Game 7s.

It’s the second straight year the Suns have lost a playoff series after having a 2-0 lead. They won the first two games against the Bucks in the NBA Finals last season before losing four straight games.

TIP-INS

Mavericks: Doncic and Dinwiddie were the first teammates to have at least 20 points in a half in Game 7 since Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston did it for the Knicks in 1997, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Suns: Phoenix shot just 6 of 23 (26.1 per cent) from the field in the first quarter. … The Suns hosted another sellout crowd at Footprint Center. Celebrities in attendance included baseball great Alex Rodriguez and rapper Lil’ Wayne. … The Suns are the second team in NBA history to win at least 64 games in the regular season and not make the conference finals. The other was the Mavericks in 2007. … Phoenix has still never won a title since coming into the league in 1968. … Deandre Ayton played just 18 minutes and finished with five points and four rebounds. When asked about Ayton’s lack of playing time, Williams responded “It’s internal.” Ayton did not speak to the media postgame.

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2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs Game 7: Rangers host Penguins and Flames take on Stars on Sunday – CBS Sports

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After three Game 7s on Saturday, the thrilling 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs continue Sunday with another pair of win-or-go-home matchups. Those final two games will finalize the second round, making them must-see TV for hockey fans.

To close the first round, the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames will battle at the Scotiabank Saddledome at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and on fuboTV (try for free). The series has been a goalie showcase thus far, as Dallas’ Jake Oettinger is No. 2 in save percentage in these playoffs while Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom is second in goals against average. A Stars win would send them to the second round for the first time since their Stanley Cup final run in 2020, and Calgary is seeking its first playoff series win since 2015.

In an absolutely thrilling game, Artemi Panarin sent a shot to the right side of Tristan Jarry’s net to put the Rangers into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Panarin was assisted by Adam Fox and Mika Zibanejad on the overtime game winner. Zibanejad was key for the Rangers’ success late in the game as his goal at the 14:15 mark in the third period was what sent it to overtime. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was 3-0 in Game 7s coming into this game. His team finished the night with a 45-30 shot on goal advantage. Sidney Crosby did play in the game, after missing Game 6, and recorded an assist in the loss.   

Follow here for all the live updates of what should be an extremely fun NHL Sunday night.  

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