TORONTO (AP)Auston Matthews summed up life under the microscope in Toronto with a few succinct sentences.
”The highs can get real high here,” he said. ”And the lows can get real low. Sometimes you’ve just got to take a step back and take a breath.”
The Maple Leafs did that in the midst of an early swoon. Now, they’re reaping the benefits. Matthews and John Tavares had two goals as Toronto picked up its fifth straight victory by defeating the Boston Bruins 5-2 on Saturday night.
Mitch Marner added an empty-netter and had three assists for Toronto, while Jack Campbell made 40 saves. Morgan Rielly chipped in with two assists of his own, and Tavares had one.
Coach Sheldon Keefe pointed to a 4-1 setback against the high-flying Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night earlier as the moment Toronto began to show signs of getting its swagger back.
”I thought our team would grow through that experience, and it’s been incremental … and things have started to fall into place. We’ve shown belief to just stay with it. We’ve been talking about it for a long time. Every team talks about it, just how important it is to keep the belief in the room, block out the noise.”
The four-headed offensive monster up front of Matthews, Tavares, Marner and William Nylander have scored Toronto’s last 13 goals and combined for 32 points during the five-game surge.
”Good preparation, good mindset, and just continue to compete,” Tavares said of what’s clicked. ”Good things are happening.”
Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak scored for Boston, which got 31 stops from Linus Ullmark. Brad Marchand had two assists.
”We’ve got to create our identity where we’re hard to play against for 60 minutes,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”Not 30, 20, 40 … whatever it is. It’s got to be 60.”
The Leafs and Bruins last played Nov. 15, 2019 – a stretch of more than 720 days – when Boston picked up a 4-2 victory in Toronto in the final days of the Mike Babcock era.
Tied at 1 late in the second period, Toronto’s power play stayed hot by connecting for a fourth straight game. Marner moved into the offensive zone and fed a pass to Matthews, who saw the puck go off his skate, Ullmark’s pad and then back to the star center’s stick for him to bury his fifth goal of the season with 5:01 left.
Marchand then took a penalty for high-sticking on Leafs defenseman Timothy Liljegren with 1:57 left in the period to send the home side back on the man advantage.
Matthews promptly made Boston pay when he blasted a one-timer from the right faceoff circle short side on Ullmark with 66 seconds left on the clock to make it 3-1.
”We haven’t really changed much,” Rielly said of a power play that’s now 5-for-10 following a 0-for-17 stretch. ”It’s just a matter of sticking with it, working through any kind of confusion that we have. A good step in the right direction.”
The Bruins and their power play got a chance early in the third, with Patrice Bergeron and Hall coming close. But Tavares came out of the penalty box and led Toronto’s counter before scoring off of a William Nylander setup for his second goal of the night and team-leading sixth overall at 2:53.
The Bruins got one back at 8:29 when Pastrnak fired his third past Campbell, but the Leafs held firm before Marner scored into the empty net.
Boston, which knocked Toronto from the first round of the playoffs in both 2018 and 2019, opened the scoring on a power play at 8:37 of the first after Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin was whistled for delay of game following a battle that saw Campbell’s net knocked off its moorings.
Coming off a four-goal game Thursday in a 5-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, Bergeron took the initial one-timer off a Marchand feed that Hall tipped past Campbell for his third.
Toronto tied things up with eight minutes left in the period on a strange play that required a lengthy review when Marner’s shot was tipped in tight by Tavares for his fifth of the campaign – and fourth in the last five games.
The Boston net was dislodged before the puck crossed the line, but the goal stood because officials ruled Bergeron caused the displacement, and the puck would have entered the goal under normal circumstances.
”I learned a little bit about how the rule works when these nets comes off,” Keefe said. ”I was a little unsure about that. You don’t see those type of plays happen very often, but obviously great that it worked out for us.”
The Leafs will look to continue to build – and remain focused. Or as Matthews would say, take a step back and breathe.
NOTES: Leafs defenseman Justin Holl was a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game.
Bruins: Host Ottawa on Tuesday night.
Maple Leafs: Wraps up five-game homestand Monday night against Los Angeles.