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Why They Will Win

Maple Leafs will ride Auston Matthews to Stanley Cup

Play of rookie leads Toronto to first title since 1967

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

This will be the stuff that dreams are made of, at least if those dreams originate in Toronto or among the widespread Toronto Maple Leafs faithful. A fan base that has been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for a sign of life, a sign of a future, from one of the most storied franchises in the NHL, finally gets the payoff -- the Stanley Cup.

General manager Lou Lamoriello has spent much time trying to keep fans from getting ahead of themselves in the rebuilding process, but no one has had any luck in convincing the players to be patient.

From forwards Auston Matthews to William Nylander to Mitch Marner to Nazem Kadri to goalie Frederik Andersen, the Maple Leafs are ready to win it all, and ready to win now. And they will.

 

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Matthews, of course, is the easiest player to point to for the surge of the Maple Leafs, as his arrival has dwarfed even the highest expectations for the rookie, starting with his four-goal debut. The No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft led the Maple Leafs with 69 points, followed James van Riemsdyk (62) and Marner (61).

In fact, the rookies have made the most difference, shaking up the culture and the team and bringing a new spirit to a franchise that had made the postseason once in the past 11 seasons.

In the six months of the NHL season, Maple Leafs rookies have won Rookie of the Month honors four times, with Matthews and Marner winning once each and Nylander winning twice. 

Add in Andersen's ability to solidify the team in goal, with his 33-16-14 record, 2.67 goals against average and .918 save percentage, and it has been more than enough to complement the offense generated by the forwards, especially those rookies.

Video: PIT@TOR: Matthews seals crucial win with empty-netter

They have been the backbone of the team, and they -- and their fresh legs, even deep into June -- will be the reason the Maple Leafs bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto in the 50th anniversary season of the last time they won it.

But that's just on the ice. Off the ice, the Maple Leafs have assembled an unrivaled brain trust, from president Brendan Shanahan to Lamoriello to coach Mike Babcock, the man who truly inspired the Maple Leafs players and their fans to believe in what was being built at Air Canada Centre.

Babcock gets a large share of the credit for that, starting with his resume and the way that his presence has allowed the team to buy into a new era in Toronto. Add to that the way he has convinced his team, including the rookies, to play defense and to mature as players without the puck, something especially tricky with youngsters.

But he has done it, and his team has responded and will in the playoffs, ahead of anyone's predictions to bring the Stanley Cup to Toronto in the process.

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