Probably the biggest story out of Monday night’s 3-2 Leafs win over the Bruins is the resurrection of Auston Matthews, who in the second period scored his first goal in the month of April to put Toronto in the lead for good. But if there’s an enduring image of this game for Leafs’ fans—particularly if they can hold the 2-1 series advantage and finally get past the first round—it’s what Mitch Marner did at the very end.
In the dying seconds, with the Bruins trying to throw anything they could on net, the 21-year-old winger hit the ice to put his body and his sponsor-friendly face on the line. Marner blocked not one, but two David Pastrnak slap shots to shut down any chance of overtime, and if you have any doubt about how big a play that is, look at the love he gets from all his teammates after the last horn sounds.
Marner, of course, had much flashier contributions in the Leafs’ first win of this series, scoring a diving goal and a filthy penalty shot goal in the 4-1 victory. But even without a goal, he was nearly as wonderful to watch in Game 3. Aside from embracing pain to seal the win, Marner was also the key that unlocked Matthews’ offense. On the powerplay goal, it was Marner who kickstarted the play by shutting down a potential Bruins clearance, earning an assist by taking the puck from Patrice Bergeron.
It’s hard to argue with 47 goals from John Tavares this season, but there’s a solid case to be made that his linemate Marner, with 68 assists on the year, is the Maple Leafs’ MVP. At the very least, he is remarkably underpaid (making just $894,167 this year ahead of restricted free agency) for the job he’s been doing. Marner can score, he sure as hell can pass, he plays incredible defense for a winger, and he’s not afraid to break his nose for a win. Good luck trying to lock him up long-term, Toronto.