Auston Matthews Game 2 42224

BOSTON -- It was always going to be Auston Matthews. It had to be Auston Matthews.

For the Toronto Maple Leafs to end their futility against the Boston Bruins, for them to take a step toward winning a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight year, for them to put to rest the questions and the doubts, it always had to start with Matthews.

None of that has ended, not yet. But it has started, and it started with Matthews.

The forward was all over the ice on Monday, everywhere, doing everything the Maple Leafs could have wanted and everything they needed, contributing on each of their three goals, including scoring the game-winner in the 3-2 win in Game 2 at TD Garden that evened the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round.

“Auston, goal, two assists,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He’s all over the stat sheet tonight. In so many regards, he’s affecting the game positively for us. But to me, just the way he worked, where he competed. He was hard, physical, winning puck battles all over the ice.”

It was a game that ended so many runs, all of them negative, for the Maple Leafs. Their run of eight consecutive losses to the Bruins, done. Their run of never leading against the Bruins in five previous games this season, done. Their run of being held to two or fewer goals in eight straight playoff games, done.

And the game marked the first goal of the postseason for Matthews, after he had gone without a point in Toronto’s 5-1 Game 1 loss on Saturday, after he had scored 69 goals during the regular season.

But it was bigger than that. Matthews had gone six consecutive playoff games without a goal.

That too is done.

“Before the playoffs, I said, this guy, he’s so important for us,” goalie Ilya Samsonov said. “We need him to score in the game.”

Matthews had already contributed two assists on Monday, the first on Max Domi's game-tying goal at 10:32 of the first period, the second on John Tavares’ game-tying, power-play goal at 18:26 of the second period.

TOR@BOS R1, Gm2: Matthews speeds in, makes a move and grabs the lead

And then came the third period. The two sides were tied, at 2-2. That was when Domi managed to flip the puck down the ice to Matthews, who got inside on Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy. After that, it was just pure instinct. As Domi said, “Just threw it up and he did the rest.”

“It’s all about just trying to get to the net,” said Matthews, who had eight shots on goal in the game. “On the goal, it was just a flip out of the zone and just try to anticipate and time it well. I was able to kind of catch a step on the defender and was able to get on the breakaway.”

He did not miss.

“Yeah, there’s a reason he scored 69,” Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark said. “So, try to get him next time. That’s all I can say now.”

His teammates, though, they could say much more.

“[Heck] of a goal,” Tavares said. “The goal is one thing, obviously special. Not many guys in the world with those instincts and obviously the hands and the finishing ability. But just, like he talked about, the competitive aspect, winning battles, fighting for space, using his body, things he does so extremely well and sets the standard for us. [Heck] of a game by him, just driving our team.”

Matthews now sits in 11th place on the Maple Leafs’ all-time playoff goals list. He had his fourth career three-point playoff game, tied for third-most in franchise history behind Doug Gilmour (10) and Darryl Sittler (seven). He has six career game-winning goals in the playoffs, tied for fourth-most for the Maple Leafs.

This is how good he is.

And this is what the Maple Leafs are going to need from Matthews, especially if they remain without forward William Nylander, who has missed both postseason games after playing in all 82 in the regular season. They’re going to need the points, the goals, the leadership, the example.

Because, of course, it all starts with Auston Matthews.

“He’s world-class, everything he does,” Tavares said. “I think when you see the drive every single day and the passion for the game and wanting to be such a difference-maker night in and night out and certainly this time of year [to] have a night like he did was massive for our group.

“It puts us back on level terms going home, so big win for us and he certainly led the way.”

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