Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Tavares get up when it matters most

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They can and they will.

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Could the Maple Leafs sign William Nylander and Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares, and still have enough to make the Stanley Cup playoffs. That was the question and the answer.

The phrase on the signing of the $40 Million Four can be attributed to General Manager, Kyle Dubas. They can sign them and they will sign them and they signed them – and on Tuesday night in a Scotiabank Arena frenzy, Big Four autographs were found all over the ice and all over this first-round playoff series with the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

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There have been times over the years when Auston Matthews has been great, or Mitch Marner or William Nylander, and certainly less than that John Tavares has been great. But there haven’t been many nights where the four have been huge and none to date bigger than what happened in a frantic serve and volley in Game 5 of this suddenly mind-blowing series with the Lightning.

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It was something to see, something to remember, something to hold on to. In all its glory, Game 5 was filled with jaw-dropping drama and intrigue, with the first lead changes in the series, with ever-taller goalkeepers, the kind of game Jon Cooper spoke of missing out in this year’s playoffs across the board — though he might have preferred the Leafs to stay pretty quiet for a night or two.

The costliest items appeared when it mattered most — or least — so far in the series. William Nylander scored a goal, collected a puck off John Tavares for another and found Tavares, who found Morgan Rielly for a game-breaking third-period goal.

All this after he had a near breakaway and a partial breakaway before the Leafs finally scored. And the winning goal came out of a 2-on-1 with the golden boys, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, the setup man and the shooter, but this time the setup man shot – and Matthews scored the winner on rebound. . And for a moment, the whole town seemed to jump with the explosive and emotional Matthews.

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Prior to that, Matthews had all sorts of chances to score in the second half and Marner danced like only he could – and seemed just a matter of time before something beat Vasilevskiy.

Someone had to lose that game, and someone had to trail in the series and that’s where the Lightning now find themselves defeated in Game 1, Game 3 and Game 5 of this best-of-seven game.

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And somewhere between all the high-priced greatness, the ever-humble Jack Campbell is having a rather wonderful night. It didn’t necessarily start well, although both first-half goals weren’t his fault. Campbell did Tuesday night what playoff goaltenders are supposed to do.

He gave his team a chance to win. When it was 2-0 in Tampa, he made save after save to keep it from going 3-0. There was a save on Steven Stamkos and then another and two on Nick Paul and one of those beat Campbell, it would be a different story and a different series today.

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Campbell held on and gave his Leafs the opportunity to come back. It took them a while to find their legs and find their game and once they found that speed it felt like they couldn’t be beat. Campbell was the MVP for the first half of the game and maybe the last two minutes. He needed it after an uneven Game 4 and the Leafs needed a convincing performance like this after their own uneven effort in Tampa two nights earlier.

It was playoff heavyweight hockey. The kind the Leafs lacked in the last two playoff seasons. The kind we weren’t sure this group could ever be capable of, even with all their talent, even with a level of skill that few hockey teams can match.

Hearing about it year after year doesn’t mean much over time. Last night was about doing it. Dominant Nylander. Tavares finishing around the net. Marner, doodling like few hockey players can, and Matthews finishing, which he does no better than any Maple Leaf who has ever played.

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You add Campbell, Rielly in the offensive zone, the rest of the lineup necessarily adding, and suddenly the impossible seems possible. The improbable seems probable. And they have to do it again – something similar, something with that kind of statement – ​​Thursday night.

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They have to win one more game and this series and who knows what becomes possible after that. That makes this series so tough – with five games now that look nothing alike. But it was the first that felt like the excitement of the first round of the playoffs. It reminded us of what we have seen on TV for so many years.

The Leafs are now in a position to make their own history and shake up the history of the defending champions at the same time.

It’s one game at a time. One victory at a time. One more for a changing narrative.

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