Marner's shot-blocking in Game 3 a rallying point for Leafs

Apr 16 2019, 5:07 pm

As hockey has become increasingly focused on skill over the past decade or so, it’s often bought up by detractors that there’s a lack of good old-fashioned grit involved in the modern NHL.

But it’s hard to say that about Mitch Marner’s attitude in the closing seconds of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Game 3 victory on Monday night.

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After leading the team with two goals in Game 1, it was a pair of crucial shot blocks on Boston’s David Pastrnak as time expired that earned the 21-year old winger the praise of his teammates after Game 3.

Fourth-line forward Trevor Moore, who scored his first career playoff goal earlier in the night, was ecstatic at the play.

Marner, a 94-point player in his third year in the league, registered 43 shot-blocks at even strength during the regular season, a career high. But none were bigger than the two at the end of Monday night’s contest, giving the Leafs a little extra security as they closed out the win.

Of course, there’s no way of knowing what could’ve happened had Marner simply given David Pastrnak an opportunity to shoot openly. The puck could’ve sailed wide, been saved, or even hit Mitch in the face. But the Toronto winger wasn’t concerned about any potential injury on the play.

It was just last week where another prominent NHLer — San Jose’s Joe Pavelski — took a puck directly in the face.

Auston Matthews, who broke a six-game playoff scoring drought with a power play marker in the second period, said the play was a rallying moment for their team.

Listed at just 175 pounds, Marner is the second-lightest player on the Leafs’ roster, after Tyler Ennis. Teammate Jake Muzzin made sure he got in a quick lift of Marner after the final whistle went.

Praise for the play came from all corners of the internet, including Leafs fans and media.

Head coach Mike Babcock was full of praise for Marner, who also picked up an assist earlier in the night.

Meanwhile, Leafs beat writer James Mirtle of The Athletic attempted to downplay the surprise that it was a star forward like Marner throwing his body on the line.

But the blocks were as symbolic of Marner’s growth as an all-around player as they were of Toronto’s defensive play in the series in containing Boston’s stars.

After leading the Bruins with 20 points in 12 games last year (including 13 in seven games against Toronto,) Pastrnak now has just one assist through three games. While Brad Marchand does have three points so far in the series, no other Bruin has more than two. Just five separate Bruins players have been able to score this series, while seven different Leafs have.

The Leafs haven’t dominated play by any means, scoring eight goals to the Bruins’ seven, as little plays like Marner’s could add up to being the difference between winning or losing the series.

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