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First Round

Maple Leafs hope Marner's blocked shots at end of Game 3 are 'contagious'

Forward puts body on line to preserve one-goal lead against Bruins

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- There were 4.6 seconds left in the third period, and the Boston Bruins were pressing for the tying goal in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Monday.

David Pastrnak unleashed a slap shot that was blocked.

The puck came right back to him. He shot again. Blocked again.

 

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Maple Leafs series coverage]

 

The man sacrificing his body on both occasions? Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner.

"I got fired up seeing that," Toronto's Trevor Moore said. "I think I jumped 6 feet in the air. I didn't know that could have been possible, to block two like that and be OK. I was happy he's all right, that was awesome."

When the horn sounded shortly after Marner's heroics, the Maple Leafs poured off the bench to celebrate their 3-2 victory. Some hugged Frederik Andersen, who made 34 saves. Most, however, bolted for Marner to thank him for laying out to preserve the win.

This was a snapshot of why the Maple Leafs lead the series 2-1 heading into Game 4 at Toronto on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NESN, CBC, TVAS). Here was Marner, who had 94 points during the regular season, diving in front of a dangerous shooter in order to preserve the victory, a gesture that was appreciated by every Toronto player.

"It was great," defenseman Morgan Rielly said. "I love it. I think that was probably the biggest reaction our bench had tonight.

"There was never a question of the character of our team, but that was just a good display of it. That can be good to see, and we'll feed off it. It was such a team win with so many contributors."

For the Maple Leafs to ride the momentum to their first Stanley Cup Playoff series victory since 2004, they'll need complete buy-ins like that from all of their players.

Video: BOS@TOR, Gm3: Andersen uses stick to rob Krejci

Making the task especially difficult was the absence of center Nazem Kadri, who earlier in the day was suspended for the remainder of the series for cross-checking Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk in the face in Boston's 4-1 win in Game 2.

The presence of center John Tavares, in his first season with the Maple Leafs, made it easier than when Kadri was suspended three games for his illegal hit on Bruins forward Tommy Wingels in the 2018 first round. Toronto went 1-2 in Kadri's absence and lost the series in seven games.

Tavares' line with Marner and Zach Hyman has done an outstanding job defending Boston's top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak, which has been held to six points in the series. All but two of those have come on the power play.

That matchup has freed up Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and linemates Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen to concentrate on offense. Johnsson, who replaced Kadri on the No. 1 power-play unit, had a goal and an assist, as did Matthews, who came into the game without a point in the series and one assist in his previous six postseason games against the Bruins.

Video: BOS@TOR, Gm3: Matthews' PPG puts Maple Leafs ahead

"It's nice, obviously, to get one," Matthews said. "It's just another level when you score a goal in the playoffs, especially at home. I think I've said this before, but it feels like an earthquake under you. The atmosphere tonight was unbelievable. We just want to continue what we built off of tonight here on Wednesday.

"... You just got guys, doesn't matter who, sacrificing their body and blocking shots and paying the price to obviously win games. Like Mitch those last two shots, those two blocks were huge for us. It doesn't matter who you are, when you see a guy like him sacrifice their body, I think it just motivates everybody on the bench, and obviously with time winding down, that was huge."

Johnsson did not play in the series against Boston 12 months ago. He was helping the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League win the Calder Cup. So, too, was Moore, who scored the game's first goal for the Maple Leafs at 2:38 of the second period.

Andersen, meanwhile, has made 108 saves on 115 shots in the series (.939 save percentage).

Add it all up, and the Maple Leafs are two victories from winning their first postseason series in 15 years, with Marner's late-game heroics providing the recipe of what it will take to accomplish that.

"That's what you've got to do to win," coach Mike Babcock said. "Ideally, all those things are contagious. When you see your teammate do something like that, you're more likely to do it yourself.

"I think everyone, team-building, they talk about team-building. To me, that's team-building. That's just laying it on the line when you need to, and it makes everyone else around you better.

"Good for him and good for us."

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