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All-Star Game

Auston Matthews impresses plenty at All-Star Game

Maple Leafs center could haunt Canadiens coach Michel Therrien in near future

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

LOS ANGELES -- Auston Matthews and Michel Therrien had a lot in common this weekend.

The 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday was a first for Matthews, in his rookie season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a first for Therrien, in his fifth season as coach of the Montreal Canadiens and 12th as a coach in the NHL.

Despite his inexperience, Therrien understood what needed to be done when coaching a rare talent like Matthews on the Atlantic Division team.

Facing a Metropolitan Division team that featured Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin playing on the same line, Therrien decided it would be appropriate to send Matthews out to face them with Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It gave us a compelling moment when the current consensus best player in the world, Crosby, took the opening faceoff against potentially the future best player in the world, Matthews.

"I had the last change so I wanted to give him the challenge of playing against Crosby," Therrien said. "I thought it was good for the League as well and a good experience for the kid."

Matthews, 19, scored a goal and played a game-high 8:16 in the Atlantic Division's 10-6 loss to the Metropolitan Division in the semifinal, with Therrien giving the Maple Leafs center ample opportunity to take advantage of the experience.

Video: MET@ATL: Matthews patiently picks the top corner

Matthews and Crosby could be seen exchanging a few words between shifts.

"I had a little conversation with him, but it was all fun," Matthews said. "He's such a good guy off the ice, it's good to know him. He's the best player in the world, I've watched him ever since I was a young kid. Getting to know him, getting to play against him, especially out here, it was definitely a blast."

Any benefit Matthews might have taken from it might come back to haunt Therrien a few months from now.

The Maple Leafs and Canadiens could potentially face each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 1979, when Montreal swept Toronto in the second round on their way to winning the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in a row.

The Canadiens lead the Atlantic Division with 65 points and the Maple Leafs are one point behind the Bruins for third place with 55, creating the possibility of a second-round matchup in the playoffs.

The magnitude of such a series in Canada would practically be unprecedented, and it's something Therrien believes will happen at some point soon because of how bright things look for the Maple Leafs with young players like Matthews, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander and others coming of age.

"I believe this is the team of the future, the Maple Leafs, with all those young kids they have," Therrien said. "They've been playing really well, they're playing with confidence. There's a rivalry between Montreal and Toronto, like for us in Montreal we've got the rivalry with the Bruins. We've played those guys so many times in the playoffs. We haven't seen a playoff series [between] Montreal and Toronto for a long time. I'm sure eventually it's going to happen."

Therrien was not the only one left with a good impression of Matthews over the weekend.

Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson had a chance to discuss being victimized by Matthews in his first career NHL game Oct. 12, with Matthews stealing the puck from Karlsson to score one of his four goals.

"I was happy to be able to sit next to him in the locker room and talk to him for a bit," Karlsson said. "I knew he was a good player on the ice, but he's a great guy off the ice."

The NHL's best players expect to have a chance to get to know Matthews a little better off the ice at All-Star events for years to come.

"He's a great guy and he's got a great future ahead of him," Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He's one of the best players in the League. I'm pretty sure you're going to see him here every year from now on."

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