They can and they will.
Could the Maple Leafs sign William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares and still have enough to compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs? That was the question…and the answer.
That line about the $40 million signing was attributed to the managing director, Kyle Dupas. They can sign them, they will sign them and they have already signed – and on Tuesday night in the frenetic Scotiabank Arena, Big Four autographs were found all over the ice and throughout this first-round series with the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Over the years, there have been times when it was a great Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner or William Nylander, and certainly less so, John Tavares. But there weren’t many nights when the four made a huge appearance and there was still no greater than what happened in the frenetic bat and ball game of this suddenly amazing series.
This was something to see, something to remember, something to hold on to. In all its splendor, Game 5 has been full of drama and intrigue, with the series’ first changes, with great shots and bigger, the kind of game coach John Cooper talked about losing in this year’s playoffs widely – although it might as well be. . They preferred that the Leafs remained fairly quiet for another night or two.
Expensive items appeared when it mattered most in the series. Nylander scored a goal, got a puck from Tavares for another, then found the captain, who made his greatest play as a Leaf, spinning and capturing Morgan Riley to score in the third inning. It all comes after Nylander had one semi-separation and another partial breakup before the Levs finally scored.
The 2-on-1 winning goal came with the two golden boys, Marner and Matthews, the setup man and shooter. Only this time, the setup man took the ball – and Matthews deposited the rebound with ease. And for a moment, the entire city seemed to shake along with the explosive and emotional Matthews.
Before that, Matthews had all sorts of chances to score in the second half and Marner danced the way he alone could – and it only seemed a matter of time before something beat Andrei Vasilevsky.
Someone had to lose this game, someone had to be 3-2 behind in the series and this is where Lightning finds himself now after losing the first, third and fifth games of this best of seven round. And somewhere in between all the great things about the game, the eternally humble Jack Campbell had a rather fantastic night. Things didn’t start well, even though the two first-half goals were hardly his fault.
Campbell has managed to be what goalkeepers are supposed to be. He gave his team a chance to win. When the score was 2-0 Tampa, he saved the ball after saving it to prevent it from becoming 3-0. There was a save by Stephen Stamkos and then another, then twice on Nick Paul. And if any of those passed Campbell, that would be a different story and a different series today.
Campbell stood firm and gave his papers the opportunity to return. It took a while to find their legs and play, and once they found that speed, after Jason Spiza’s emotional plea at the end of the first period, it looked like they couldn’t be beaten. Campbell was the best player in the first half of the game and possibly the last two minutes. He and The Leafs needed these convincing performances after a spotty game 4 in Tampa two nights ago.
This was heavyweight hockey board. The kind that was missing from The Leafs in the previous two seasons. The kind we weren’t sure this group could match, with all their talent, even the skill level few teams in hockey could muster.
Maple Leafs wins 1 time from progression after exciting Game 5 win against Lightning
Sheldon Keefe of the Leafs tries to stay one step ahead in Game 4
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Hearing it year after year loses its meaning over time. Tuesday night was about to do so. Nylander dominates. Tavares Residence. Marner, tacky absurdity. Matthews scored, a better performance than any Maple Leaf has played.
I add some Campbell, some Riley in the attack zone, and the rest of the crew necessarily cracks, and suddenly the impossible seems possible. The improbable seems likely. And yes, they have to do it again – something similar, something of that kind of statement – Thursday night or Saturday night.
They need to win another game and win this series and then who knows what will become possible next? This makes this series very challenging – after five matches that are nothing like each other. But this was the first time I got really excited in the first round. We’re reminded of what we’ve seen on television for many years in other places.
The Leafs are now in a position to make their own history and make a difference in the history of the defending champions at the same time.
It’s one game at a time. One win at a time. Another one to go for a changing story.