It was almost another embarrassing collapse from the Toronto Maple Leafs last night. A game that should have been a straightforward win after having a two-goal lead almost ended up as an egg-on-face moment. But thanks to Auston Matthews, the Leafs walked away with two points. It’s not the first time Matthews has saved the Leafs, and it won’t be the last.
It has become hard to say things about Auston Matthews’ season that haven’t been said before. Off the back of yet another incredible performance from the Leafs superstar last night, the articles have been flowing in this morning. The stats are staggering, 36 goals in his previous 37 games and 19 in his last 18. He is on pace for 63 goals, which would be the most by anyone since Alex Ovechkin’s tally of 65 in 2007/2008, and he has already missed three games this season. In addition, his clip of 2.34 goals per 60 minutes would go down as the highest mark ever since the stat was first tracked at the beginning of the 2000/01 season. If not for a superhuman season from Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin, Matthews would have had the MVP wrapped up by now.
He leads all NHL skaters in goals, even-strength goals, wins above replacement and goals above replacement. His defensive play has been outstanding, Selke level even. He is scoring goals at a pace similar to prime Alex Ovechkin and has been as good defensively as Patrice Bergeron. There is no one more complete in the NHL right now than Matthews.
Igor Shesterkin is having arguably the best season by a goalie (the most influential position in the NHL) in league history yet still is not a lock for Most Valuable Player. That is how good Matthews has been. He is undeniable. But this season means more to Leaf fans than just a chance at individual hardware for Matthews.
When Matthews was selected first overall by the Leafs six years ago, he was touted as the player to bring the Leafs back to glory. The man to help the franchise rise from the ashes and save a city that has suffered for five decades. He was the symbol of hope for Leaf fans. If we are lucky enough to draft Auston Matthews, then we will be lucky enough to have him lead us to a championship. But, of course, there has only been more pain and suffering in the Auston Matthews era for Leaf fans. At times it has been hard to keep the hope alive. All of those playoff failures are just that, failures. With every passing year, you get the feeling that perhaps the losses aren’t part of a larger story that ends in redemption for the Leafs. Perhaps that only happens to teams that aren’t the Leafs.
However, Auston Matthews has come back from every playoff loss year after year and gotten better. He has embodied the resilient attitude the Leafs must have if they want to achieve their ultimate goal. He has made it impossible for Leaf fans to give up on the idea that one day it will happen. Because despite all the evidence to the contrary, it’s possible that the Leafs aren’t, in fact, cursed. If so, they have just as good a chance of winning the Stanley Cup this year as anyone else does. But, again, that is because of Auston Matthews. He has surpassed all expectations, which were too high, to begin with, and then some.
Maybe the puck bounces our way this spring, and maybe it doesn’t. But I will continue to have hope that it could and you should too.