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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews beats Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark for a goal during the third period of Game 2 of the first-round playoff series, Monday, April 22, 2024, in Boston.Charles Krupa/The Associated Press

The second installation of the super-secretive playoff series between the Maple Leafs and Bruins was staged on Monday.

Toronto dropkicked the Murphys 3-2 to knot it at one game apiece and heads home for Games 3 and 4 – but the lead-up to it was entertaining to say the least, like hockey’s version of Stratego.

The Maple Leafs played ‘Where’s Waldo?’ with William Nylander for several days. The winger missed Game 1 with an undisclosed injury and information about his condition has been handled like a state secret.

Nylander participated in an unannounced optional skate on Sunday afternoon and joined teammates on the ice on Monday morning but was limited in what he could do.

He had 40 goals and 98 points during the regular season and was Toronto’s second-leading scorer so his return is seen to have great importance.

“He looks good out there,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said early in the day. “We’ll see how he feels for the rest of today and decide whether he will play.”

At the same time Boston head coach Jim Montgomery was coy about which goalie would start. The Bruins have rotated Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman all year but Swayman had beaten Toronto four straight times. He stopped 35 of 36 shots he faced in Saturday’s 5-1 victory in Game 1.

“I don’t know why we would divulge information,” Montgomery said in a pregame game of pepper with journalists. “We have a plan in place and we’re not sharing it. I don’t tell my wife so I’m not telling you.”

In the end, Nylander did not suit up for the Maple Leafs and Ullmark, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2023, was in the home team’s crease.

With the Game 1 win, Boston had won each of its past eight games versus the Maple Leafs. That was tied for the longest winning streak against its Original Six rival in 100 years.

Auston Matthews had the winning goal and a monstrous performance for Toronto. He also had two assists, six hits and went 16-7 on face-offs in a team-high 23 minutes 24 seconds. When Toronto went ahead with 7:54 remaining it was the first time it has held a lead in six games versus Boston all season.

“Everything he does is world class,” John Tavares, the captain, said of Matthews. “He certainly led the way. It was a hell of a game by him.”

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Toronto was penalized six times in the series opener and did a face-plant at TD Garden. It promised to play more smartly and be more disciplined this time out.

Then Jake McCabe took a cross-checking penalty that led to Morgan Geekie’s power-play goal that put the Bruins up 1-0 with 9:42 left in the first period. Max Domi replied only 14 seconds later for Toronto and it was 1-1.

With eight seconds to go before the first intermission David Pastrnak whistled a puck past Ilya Samsonov and the home team went into the break with a 2-1 lead.

The first period was another slugfest with 37 hits exchanged. At various points Brad Marchand rocked Simon Benoit, Pastrnak knocked down Tavares as the Maple Leafs captain was trying to check him and Trent Frederic sent Benoit flying.

Toronto battled hard to even the score in the second period. Calle Jarnkrok came oh-so-close but a video review showed that Ullmark (barely) kept the puck from crossing the goal line. Tyler Bertuzzi then batted one in but that was negated because he hit it with his stick a tad too high.

Tavares finally tied it at 2-2 with a wrist shot from 30 feet out with 1:34 before the second intermission.

The triumph may have saved the Maple Leafs’ season. Teams that fall behind 2-0 in the playoffs go on to lose a best-of-seven series about 85 per cent of the time.

Games 3 and 4 will take place on Wednesday and Saturday at Scotiabank Arena.

“I’m happy to get the win and the split and go home 1-1,” Matthews said.

Matthews gave Toronto the lead on a breakaway. He had eight shots on the evening. He was shut out in Game 1 after scoring an NHL-leading 69 goals during the regular season.

Samsonov, who was 0-4 in previous playoff games against Boston, had 27 saves. At one point this season he was waived and another time he took a mental health break.

“We love him,” Tavares said. “He has battled hard all year. Maybe it was not the way you would draw it up but his ability to stay with it is really impressive.”

Said Keefe: “It was a really good team effort but Ilya is a big part of this one today.”

Ullmark stopped 30 of 33 shots in defeat.

For once, Toronto did what it has seldom been able to do by beating the Bruins. It won puck battles, played tight defence and meted out punishment in kind.

Ryan Reaves had six hits and Matthew Knies and Joel Edmundson had five each. Morgan Rielly blocked four shots.

“I loved a lot about our game tonight all the way through our lineup,” Keefe said.

It is just one win in four needed to win the series. But it allows the Maple Leafs to head home with some momentum.

“Any time you win on the road it’s important,” Tavares said. “But there is a long way to go.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Auston Matthews scored a disallowed goal. It was Tyler Bertuzzi. This version has been updated.

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