Regardless of how this sequence seems – and that’s somewhat extra in doubt now than there was after Game 2 – the Toronto Maple Leafs proceed to make the sort of progress that ought to see them carry the Stanley Cup, perhaps greater than as soon as, in the following decade. In defeat, they’re studying. And once they win, as they did in Game 3 Tuesday night time, they’re placing these classes to sensible use.
Or as Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock put it after his staff gained Game 3 over the Boston Bruins by a Four-2 margin: “What you have to remember is these guys are young guys. They’re playing against real players and they’re young guys. So you’ve got to go through some of these slappings in your life to respond and learn how to play and do things right.”
The actuality is, although, some dangerous puck luck and nice goaltending by Frederik Andersen are actually the one issues protecting the Bruins from having a 3-Zero sequence lead. The different actuality is that they’re in all probability not too apprehensive about the place their sport is for the time being. For the Leafs, although, that is extra of a press release. And few gamers made an even bigger assertion than Mitch Marner, who performed head-to-head together with his linemates (and new middle Tomas Plekanec) towards the devastatingly highly effective Patrice Bergeron line and got here out forward. This time final 12 months, Marner was studying the laborious means what it takes to succeed in the playoffs. At instances, he appeared misplaced towards the Washington Capitals.
But we’re seeing a distinct Mitch Marner this spring, one that isn’t afraid to say himself or to attempt issues together with his plentiful ability. The Marner enjoying in this 12 months’s playoff is a extra mature, extra assured participant who’s enjoying with a very good degree of swagger.
“Definitely,” Marner stated when requested if he notices the distinction this spring. “You know what you’re coming into in your second year. First year it’s all just the first time and you hear about it, but you never really know until you get into the action. I think you’re more aware of what’s going on in your second year.”
In case you haven’t observed, Marner leads all Maple Leafs in playoff scoring with a aim and three assists, simply as he did in the common season. Down the scoring record somewhat is Auston Matthews, one other teen who didn’t precisely present that effectively in Games 1 and a couple of and who began slowly in Game 3, however whose physique language as the sport went on indicated he was starting to search out his sport. He lastly scored a aim, the one which turned out to be the winner, which he thought was a press release he wanted to make. “Absolutely,” Matthews stated. “I think everybody did.”
It’s straightforward to overlook generally that the entire constructing course of with the Maple Leafs has been accelerated, in half due to the play of youngsters similar to Morgan Rielly and Matthews and Marner. (Funny how we don’t hear anybody lamenting the truth that the Leafs might have had Noah Hanifin with that fourth total decide in the 2015 draft anymore.) That’s why they went out and bought 38-year-old Patrick Marleau, who scored twice on objectives that have been assisted by Marner.
“He’s been setting me up all year,” Marleau stated when requested if he was anticipating Marner to make the eye-popping play on his first aim. “So I just go there and try to put my stick on the ice and he made a great play.”
The Leafs do have the luxurious of youth, in all probability for one more 12 months or two. Then extra might be anticipated. And they may nonetheless be in for a spectacular playoff disappointment earlier than they actually, actually study what it takes to noticeably contend for a Stanley Cup. And these classes are piling up like a snow financial institution in the useless of winter on the fringe of an outside rink. They could not repay in 2018, and even in 2019, however there might be a day when Marner and his teammates look again on these springs fondly.
As they are saying so usually hockey, it’s all a part of the method. “Just being in those positions (last year) helps,” Rielly stated. “Older, more experienced, more comfortable and that’s just what leads to Mitch and those younger guys, including myself, playing better.”
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