Maple Leafs’ big dogs hit back at Bruins for team’s fifth consecutive win

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Jack Campbell described the increased production of the Maple Leafs’ most magical – and maligned – star players as “the big dogs come to play.”

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Not only are they off-leash, but they’re showing major offensive bite in a five-game winning streak, the last two against Tampa Bay and Saturday’s 5-2 decision against the Boston Bruins. That’s four huge points in an Atlantic division that hasn’t been easier in the year-long absence of Toronto.

“We need these guys to produce, they did, and it’s no coincidence that we’ve started riding since,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “But I really thought it was a team effort all along, every line, defense, goalkeepers and special teams.”

Auston Matthews has two power-play goals, Mitch Marner has one empty net and three assists and now has 11 points in his last five games, while John Tavares has also scored a pair and added an assist. With two assists from Morgan Rielly and another from William Nylander, that added to a 12-point night off the top of the team’s highly scrutinized pay grid.

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Campbell’s 42 saves improved his record to 6-2-1, as the “Tuuuuka” chants that permeated that series when Bruins goaltender Rask dominated became “Sooooup” for the warm Leafs goalie.

Matthews smiled when asked about the temperature variation in the room two weeks ago.

“The highs can be high around (the city) and the lows very low,” he said. “You have to take a step back and breathe. The loop has come full circle and the washers are starting to come in.

Beating the Bolts and Bruins to keep the streak going is huge, as mentioned, two clubs the Leafs will need to take a few points off to qualify for the playoffs and possibly meet at some point in the spring.

“This whole week has been a challenge and I think we’ve answered it well,” said Matthews.
Everyone in blue and white is relieved the power play has come to life, especially when Saturday started 0-for-2, while Boston’s Taylor Hall had one with Jake Muzzin on the box.

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Keefe had equated the lackluster performance to date with statics in their 5-on-5 puck game. Not counting Marner’s goal on Saturday, four of their last six tallies have come with an extra man, including 6-5 to force overtime against Tampa Bay, then a 4-3 in overtime to win.

Matthews now has three power play goals this year and 50 in his career.

“You would love to start off on the right foot, but he was just coming out of surgery,” Tavares said. “He’s done a terrific job (coming back) every time he’s injured, the way he works on things. It is confidence in one’s instincts and abilities.

On Matthews’ opening goal, on a boarding call from David Pastrnak that splashed out on TJ Brodie, Marner circled a puck that seemed out of his reach to put it in the net with Matthews showing good rebound control.

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In the second, after Brad Marchand got too rowdy with Timothy Liljegren in front of Campbell, Matthews escaped from the straight faceoff to beat Linus Ullmark on the short side.

The circumstances of Muzzin’s penalty led directly to a break for the Leafs later in the period as Bergeron shoved Tavares into the crease, with the captain pushing the captain hard enough to fend off Boston’s pipes. Bergeron was ruled the aggressor, long before the puck came into play, and Tavares allowed a goal on the play. Bergeron’s illegal action was verified by video, Keefe and Boston coach Bruce Cassidy needing the rare event explained to them by the referees.

Reunion spirit and a whiff of playoff rivalry was in the air all day as Boston played its first game against the Leafs at Scotiabank since October 2019.

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It was also Keefe’s first game against the Bruins, although familiar names such as Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak abounded.

Campbell entered game sixth in the NHL’s 1.86 goals against average and is not about to rest with Petr Mrazek unavailable due to a lingering groin injury.

“I wouldn’t call (Campbell’s workload) a concern because he’s pretty healthy,” Keefe said before the game. “We were able to (balance) the rest days and the training days well. The schedule has been pretty good, no back-to-backs coming up until the end of next week. We’re just very comfortable with Jack.

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