(Toronto) The Toronto Maple Leafs are quickly learning the same lesson as the Presidents’ Trophy winners.
Matthew Tkachuk is a problem.
The Florida Panthers winger, a blend of speed, skill, tenacity and grit that makes him a unicorn compared to what is currently found in the NHL, was instrumental in the surprising victory for his team against the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.
Tkachuk picked up where he left off in Game One of the second act of the playoffs on Tuesday, with three assists and a game-high nine hits. His group won 4-2.
assists given and the most strikes of any player on the ice with nine attempts. He also got heckled by the Maple Leafs’ defensive corps, and was apparently in all the right moves in the Panthers’ 4-2 win.
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe listed Tkachuk’s dangers ahead of the start of the series, including his skills on the counter, along the boards, behind the net and near it. He demonstrated that in the opening game.
The Leafs know it’s crucial to counter a player who already has 14 playoff-high points.
“He’s a super competitive guy,” said Mark Giordano of the Leafs, who was his teammate with the Flames. He wins a lot of loose pucks where it can go one way or the other. You have to go hard. He plays with a lot of confidence. We really have to put a spoke in his wheels. »
Auston Matthews played alongside Tkachuk in the U.S. National Team Development Program when they were teenagers.
“His game has always been like it is now,” Matthews said. He plays with a lot of intensity. He is always in front of the net. It is difficult to move around the goal.
“You have to take it into account, but at the same time not let it impose you. »
The Leafs still have other worries aside from Tkachuk, tied for sixth in scoring with 109 points in the regular season.
Sam Bennett, from the suburbs of Toronto, had a goal and an assist in game one, while Nick Cousins also scored.
Keefe said his team needed to get that line to play in the Panthers’ half more often, given what the Panthers did to the Bruins, who led 3-1 in the first round.
“They create opportunity, life, energy,” Keefe said. It feeds the rest of the team. »