Auston Matthews is starting to heat up.
And after a rocky opening to the NHL campaign in a pressure-packed market, his Maple Leafs appear to be finding their groove.
The sniper scored twice Saturday as Toronto defeated Boston 2-1 to snap the Bruins’ seven-game winning streak.
Matthews, who led the NHL with 60 goals last season on the way to capturing his first Hart Trophy as league MVP, found the back of the net just once in the first seven outings of 2022-23, but now has five in his last five contests.
“Trying to create, trying to possess the puck as much offensively and obviously keep the puck out of our own end,” he said. “It’s a challenge at times.
“Just trying to get rolling.”
Mitch Marner helped set up both goals for Toronto (6-4-2), which has won two straight after dropping four in a row as part of a sluggish October that turned the heat up on head coach Sheldon Keefe.
“Found another level tonight,” he said. “We knew that Boston was going to demand our absolute best.”
The good vibes coming from the Leafs’ locker room were tempered somewhat after goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who finished with 13 saves through 40 minutes, left with a knee injury. Erik Kallgren stopped seven shots in the third period.
Keefe, who is already minus Matt Murray (groin/abductor) and prospect Joseph Woll (shoulder), said Samsonov wouldn’t be available for Sunday’s 5 p.m. start in Carolina.
“Not many teams in the league are gonna have three goalies injured in their system and feel comfortable,” Keefe said. “But it’s the reality.”
Brad Marchand, on a penalty shot that resulted in Samsonov’s injury, replied for Boston (10-2-0). Linus Ullmark made 26 saves as the NHL’s top team based on points percentage lost for the first time since Oct. 18.
“I don’t think we played with the puck as much as we would like,” said Boston centre David Krejci, who returned following a three-game injury absence. “Couldn’t wear them down.”
Matthews broke a 1-1 tie at 14:07 of the second on a tap-in at the lip of Ullmark’s crease for his sixth of the campaign following a terrific power-play sequence from William Nylander.
“He just kind of went for a walk there,” Matthews said of Nylander. “Put it right on tee for me.”
Kallgren replaced Samsonov to start the third and was bailed out by his post on a David Pastrnak shot.
The Leafs then killed off two Boston power plays with desperate defending that continued late with Ullmark on the bench.
“We came out strong,” Toronto winger Michael Bunting said. “When we play fast, good things come.”
Coming off Wednesday’s victory over Philadelphia that snapped their ugly slide, the Leafs opened the scoring at 7:19 of the first when Matthews fooled Ullmark after the Bruins goaltender lost track of the puck behind his net on a nice soccer-style kick play from Bunting.
Toronto captain John Tavares, who had a hat trick Wednesday, rang a shot off the crossbar early in the second before taking a penalty that led to Boston’s equalizer.
With the Leafs down a man against the NHL’s highest-scoring team, T.J. Brodie tripped Marchand on a breakaway to set up the winger’s slick deke that had Samsonov completely fooled – and then injured – to tie things.
Marchand’s fourth goal in four games after being sidelined for the start the season was the 800th point of his career. He also tied Mario Lemieux for second all-time with his sixth successful penalty shot, one back of Pavel Bure’s record.
Denis Malgin then hit Toronto’s second post of the period before Matthews pushed the home side in front for good.
“Especially when we’re trying to kind of climb out of a bit of a hole or try playing little bit better, these are the games that we need,” Matthews said.
“Really positive for us tonight.”
A day after Boston signed controversial defenceman Mitchell Miller, who had his draft rights relinquished by Arizona in 2020 for bullying a Black classmate with developmental disabilities when the player was 14 years old, the Bruins’ leaders were asked about the move.
Patrice Bergeron said general manager Don Sweeney floated the possibility of adding Miller last week.
Boston’s captain made his concerns known.
“The culture that we built here goes against that type of behaviour,” Bergeron said. “In this locker room, we’re all about inclusion, diversity, respect.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in Finland ahead of Saturday’s game between Colorado and Columbus that Miller is not currently eligible to play in the league – and may never be.
Boston forward Nick Foligno called the signing “hard to swallow.”
“Tough thing to hear,” he said. “I don’t think any guy was too happy.”
The Leafs lost Nicolas Aube-Kubel on waivers to Washington.
The winger signed after winning the Stanley Cup with Colorado, but never found his footing in Toronto.
“Hard to put to put a finger on it,” Keefe said when asked why the fit wasn’t right. “He’s got a lot of really good assets.”
Leafs: Visit Carolina on Sunday.
Bruins: Host St. Louis on Monday.
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