As their stars go, so go the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Game 5 of the first-round series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning saw Toronto’s stars shine when needed the most. The same stars have received countless criticism for their lack of production in previous playoffs over the years.
One could argue that in the playoffs the checking becomes tighter, and the stars have less space on the ice. The problem with that argument is that the best of the best always find a way to create space and scoring opportunities.
Players have to be able to adapt and change how they approach the intensity that comes with playing in the playoffs. Every star player on the team is not going to score in every game, but they need to produce regularly.
Entering this year’s playoffs, Toronto’s stars have decided that it’s time to silence the critics. Through five games, they have done just that.
Toronto Maple Leafs Players Silencing Critics
Before the start of this series, the Toronto media made sure fans remember that Mitch Marner has not scored a playoff goal since the 2019 playoffs. Marner made sure to put that stat to bed when he scored one of Toronto’s five goals in Game 1. He scored again in Game 2 to officially silence most of his critics. Through five games, Marner has two goals and five assists for seven points.
Auston Matthews is the NHL’s leading goal scorer for a second straight year. He’s been criticized for not scoring enough come playoff time. In last year’s seven-game series against the Montreal Canadiens Matthews only scored one goal. This year, just like Marner, Matthews is silencing his critics. He has three goals and four assists for seven points. So far, no goal has meant more than the one he scored in the third period of Game 5. It gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a 4-3 lead and the goal that helped them take a 3-2 series lead.
John Tavares finished the regular season with 76 points in 79 games. Not bad for a player that many were saying is washed up because he wasn’t scoring often enough for an $11 million player. Those same criticisms followed him through the first four games of this series as Tavares was still without a goal in the series.
He put all of that to rest when his net-front presence finally paid off in Game 5. A shot on net by William Nylander bounced off Tavares and into the net as Toronto began their epic comeback. He has four points through five games so far in the series.
William Nylander is one of the few players who produced well in last year’s playoffs. He had five goals and three assists for eight points in seven games. Nylander carried that over into this season where he produced career highs in goals (34), assists (46), and points (80).
Even after all that, Nylander still gets criticized for not playing the way fans want him to. So far in these playoffs, he has three goals and two assists for five points in five games. His third-period goal in Game 5 gave the Toronto Maple Leafs their first lead of the game. It was a goal that brought fans to their feet and was part of Toronto’s gritty, hard-fought comeback win. (All stats hockeydb.com).
The stars for Toronto are doing well at silencing their individual critics. With one more win in this series, they could silence many others. The main criticism that everyone on the team, from players to coaches to management, wants to see silenced is that Toronto can’t make it to the second round. Hopefully, they can do that in Tampa on Thursday in Game 6.