TORONTO -- Auston Matthews has a greater understanding of what it will take to emerge as a significant player for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The center, who had an NHL career-high 73 points (37 goals, 36 assists) in 68 games this season, intends to be better beginning with Game 1 at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
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"Demanding the puck more from our defense, carrying it myself whether it's chipping it in the zone and getting after it to make a play or taking it in myself, it's more of a confidence thing," Matthews said after practice Monday. "When I've been skating (like I have lately), demanding the puck and carrying it through the neutral zone with my size and speed, I think that's dangerous for the Bruins because we're on top of their defense and trying to force them to turn it over and push them back."
Matthews was held to two points (one goal, one assist) in a seven-game loss to Boston in the first round last season. Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said it was a lesson about the difference between the regular season and postseason, especially for a player who is always going to draw attention from opponents.
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"The biggest thing is there is going to be no room, no space, no time and the better a player you are, the less there is going to be," Babcock said. "You have to understand what the playoffs are about and what it's going to take to be successful and our whole team has to. Early in the season when we're fun to watch and it's racing around with tons of room, it's a lot of fun, your sweater is flapping, it feels good but it's just not real. It's not living in the real world. The real world is coming right away here and it's no time, no space."
Matthews also enters the playoffs in better shape physically and mentally compared to last season, when he returned from a shoulder injury with nine games remaining. He and the Maple Leafs are also motivated for revenge against the Bruins.
"I feel good going into the playoffs," Matthews said. "I just want to continue that and take my game to another level here come Thursday.
"Everyone on this team is going into it very hungry. We want to make up for last year where we felt it could have gone either way in that last game. To not move was really frustrating and left a bitter taste in a lot of our mouths."