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Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews celebrates his second goal of the game on Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo during the second period in Toronto, on Dec. 20, 2018.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Roberto Luongo was joking when he tweeted a picture of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner from their cameo appearance as the Cannon Dolls in the National Ballet of Canada’s production of The Nutcracker on Wednesday night and cracked: “After such a big night should probably consider giving them the night off tomorrow no?”

By the time the second period was four minutes old on Thursday night, the Florida Panthers goaltender was in a decidedly less jolly mood. Shortly after Matthews scored his second consecutive goal of the game in exactly the same fashion he scored his first, Luongo angrily rotated his gaze among his teammates, making his displeasure with their lack of coverage clear.

The goal also made it clear the Leafs were completely in charge of the game, making up for their less-than-inspiring effort last week in Florida when they lost in overtime to the Panthers. This time around, in Toronto’s barn, the Leafs cruised to a 6-1 win, their second in a row after a bad couple of weeks.

After the game-day skate, Matthews said the Leafs were taking the sting of the previous loss to the Panthers into the game.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “We didn’t play well last week against them. We made a comeback and we were able to sneak out with a point. But definitely not our best game.”

By the end of the night, every area of the Leafs’ game was humming nicely, especially the power play, which had been in a seven-game funk. The Leafs were perfect with the extra man, scoring three times on three opportunities.

“Yeah, I think our power play was back to where we wanted it to be,” said Marner, who finished with a goal and two assists. “We were moving the puck very quick, we were opening up seams. That’s why we were successful.”

It was a great night for individual statistics as well. Matthews had two assists to go with his two goals, John Tavares scored twice and defenceman Morgan Rielly bagged four assists. That put him comfortably in the lead for points among NHL defencemen with 40. Matthews now has 19 goals in 21 games, which is a 62-goal pace for the season, an astounding rate considering he missed 14 games with a shoulder injury.

Matthews’ first goal of the game came on the power play, a now-patented set piece where Marner throws the puck across the slot for a one-timer for Matthews from the left faceoff circle.

Matthews had all the time he needed on that one, as there wasn’t a Panther in his area code. When the Panthers allowed him almost as much room on the opposite side for his second one-timer goal, Luongo quite rightly did a slow burn.

The power-play goals were the Leafs’ first in five games. Despite the firepower on the unit, it hit a dry spell over the previous seven games with a one-for-25 run.

In the meantime, Marner was also keeping Luongo busy. He forced the Panthers goaltender to make two big saves on him, as Marner was allowed to cruise into the slot.

Nazem Kadri scored the third goal, at 11:14 of the second period. This came a little more than three minutes after Kadri had a goal disallowed when the NHL’s video judge correctly ruled he kicked the puck into the net.

The power play struck again early in the third period when John Tavares, who was a dangerous presence with Marner all evening, scored on a setup from Matthews. When Tavares scored again, his 23rd of the season, on a setup from Marner, it marked the end of the night for Luongo. He was replaced by ex-Leaf James Reimer, who was greeted with a warm ovation by the fans.

Marner got on the board with a power-play goal at 15:14 of the third. That marked the third time this season the Leafs scored three power-play goals in a game. The fans actually thought Tavares scored to complete a hat trick and mistakenly showered the ice with hats, much to the merriment of the Leafs.

“I asked for one of the Santa Claus hats but that was about it. I have enough Leafs hats,” Matthews said.

Henrik Borgstrom spoiled Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen’s shutout bid midway through the third period. Andersen was screened on the shot. But the win was Andersen’s 19th of the season.

Matthews’ and Marner’s appearance in The Nutcracker was ruled a big success, by the way. While their assistance in firing the cannon lasted about 50 seconds, Matthews said it felt more like “six hours”. The bit ended with Marner jumping into the arms of the 6-foot-3, 223-pound Matthews. That part of the script determined who played whom among the Cannons Dolls.

“When we got there we got told there were two roles,” Marner said. “For me, I wasn’t going to carry [Matthews] off the stage.”

Both players said they enjoyed the experience and both said they gained an appreciation of the athleticism and strength of the ballet performers.

“Honestly, it was a cool experience,” Matthews said. “Watching the second act, they’re very talented. It’s crazy what they can do. Every time they jumped, I was like, thinking in my head I’d for sure fall and break my ankle doing this.”

While it was expected the performance would be greeted with great merriment in the Leafs’ dressing room, Matthews said no one laid into them. “No, I think everybody kind of liked it,” he said.

Indeed, the only teammate to attend the show gave a rave review. Rielly, who took his mom, said, “She loved it, I loved it. It was fun. I got nervous for them, but they were great.”

Tavares and Marner missed their regular linemate for the game and will have to do without him for at least three weeks. Zach Hyman sustained an ankle injury in Tuesday’s 7-2 win over the New Jersey Devils that turned out to be worse than the team thought.

When Hyman missed practice on Wednesday, head coach Mike Babcock said it was a rest day. At that point, Babcock and the medical staff thought Hyman would play in the Florida game because he wasn’t complaining about being hurt.

He turned up for the morning skate on Thursday still expecting to play, according to Babcock, but the extent of the injury was discovered. Hyman was replaced on the Tavares line by Andreas Johnsson, who worked well with him and Marner.

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