Leafs’ Hyman, already a workhorse, prepared to go one step further in the playoffs

As much as Zach Hyman was happy to find his way on to the scoresheet on Monday night against the Buffalo Sabres, it’s the less-obvious plays the Maple Leafs winger made that were just as crucial.

Hyman assisted on a goal by William Nylander midway through the second period of the Leafs’ 5-2 win victory at the Air Canada Centre, and later, took a goal away from the Sabres when he backchecked to deny Johan Larsson a look at an open Leafs net.

During the first period, with the Sabres pressing after a Leafs turnover, Hyman stole the puck from Evan Rodrigues and cleared the zone.

All in a night’s work for Hyman, whose work ethic will have to be matched by teammates once the playoffs start next week.

“You need to take pride in them (on the contributions that don’t pop up on the scoresheet),” Hyman said. “Those are things that help your team win games and things that everybody needs to do. It’s going to be big for us to all dig in at playoff time. It’s important.”

The six playoff games the Leafs played in the first round a year ago before they were eliminated by the Washington Capitals factor into Hyman’s thinking with two regular-season games remaining.

“We got a taste of it,” Hyman said. “The way I play in the regular season is going to be the way I play in the playoffs. But everything ramps up, so you have to bring another level.”

POINT SHOTS
Tomas Plekanec made a great no-look pass to feed Andreas Johnsson for the Leafs’ first goal, but the goal doesn’t happen if the Sabres had something approaching a clue defensively. Defencemen Marco Scandella and Rasmus Ristolainen were nowhere to be seen, while forward Benoit Pouliot had been close to Johnsson in front of the net before skating away, leaving Johnsson open to re-direct Plekanec’s pass behind goalie Chad Johnson … It didn’t lead to a goal in the first period, but impressive nonetheless: Mitch Marner pushing the puck past Justin Falk and then flying by the Sabres defenceman with a burst of speed … For those not keeping track: Roman Polak is up to 46 penalty minutes in 52 games. Curious to see how patient coach Mike Babcock is with Polak in the post-season if the penalties come at a similar rate … Auston Matthews’ two power-play goals were his third and fourth of the season, and first since Nov. 30. If you find that depressing, remember that Matthews has 29 even-strength goals in 2017-18. Only four players had more … If that was Curtis McElhinney’s final appearance for a while, it was typical of the kind of goaltending the 34-year-old has supplied in the majority of his games this season. Of McElhinney’s 32 saves, none was better than stretching across the crease to deny Sam Reinhart on a Buffalo 2-on-1 in the second period … How about Matthews looking like Morgan Rielly and finding William Nylander with the stretch pass through the neutral zone, sending Nylander in to score his second of the game? And the Matthews spin off Scandella in the second period? Jaw-dropping … Nylander, at 19 goals, needs one to give the Leafs six players with at least 20 goals for the first time since 1998-99 … One indication of how far the Leafs have come in the Babcock era, which has not yet been three full seasons: In 2015-16, P.A. Parenteau led the Leafs with 20 goals, when the Leafs were last overall … Matthews has scored 73 goals in his first two seasons in the NHL, breaking the Leafs record of 71, set by Wendel Clark in 1985-86 and 1986-87 … Nylander has eight game-winning goals, tied for third-most in the NHL this season.

BRUINS OR LIGHTNING?
About that first round of the playoffs — which opponent would the Leafs prefer?

They’ve been saying all along they don’t care one way or the other.

If it’s the Boston Bruins, fine. If it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, fine.

Regarding the season series between the Leafs and each of their possible opponents: The Leafs fared better against the Bruins, winning three of the four meetings. Toronto won once in four games versus the Lightning.

Oddly, the only game Matthews played against the Bruins — he missed the other three because he was injured — was the Leafs’ lone loss, on Feb. 3 in Boston. That night, Matthews was rendered ineffective by the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara.

But considering the wins, should the Leafs be wishing for a series against Boston? No.

The Bruins have been the better club since the turn of the calendar to 2018, going 28-7-6. Tampa has gone 24-15-2, and there’s the Lightning penalty kill, which sits at 26th overall in the NHL.

Yes, Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos would be difficult to contain during the course of a seven-game series. And Norris Trophy contender Victor Hedman would have a great impact.

Still, that’s more palatable than Bergeron and Chara and Brad Marchand and the rest of the Bruins, who don’t give an inch away.

Anything can happen in the first round, rest assured. We just think the Leafs would have a stronger chance of making something happen against the Lightning.

Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies

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