When Auston Matthews scored his 20th goal of the season and lifted the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 5-4 overtime victory in the Centennial Classic Sunday night, they extended their win streak to five games and pulled within three points of the third place Boston Bruins for a playoff spot. While the team is still constantly blowing third period leads and have faced exactly zero playoff teams during the streak, many fans and media members are starting to think the postseason is a realistic possibility for the young club.
After the game, head coach Mike Babcock talked candidly about where he thinks his team is now and the atmosphere at the outdoor game.
On Matthews’ continued success:
Well he’s a good player. I mean, he played head to head with [Henrik Zetterberg], Z had three points, [Anthony] Mantha had three points. They were really good too, so let’s not get too carried away there.
On giving up another late lead:
It’s 4-1. Just get it out of your zone, it’s so easy. It’s just like deja vu, but we got a lesson here tonight and still won the game for our fans. Let’s be honest, the NHL likes it that it was 5-4 way better than had it been 1-0.
On playing young players at the end of the game instead of veterans:
If you’re Naz[em Kadri] or Leo [Komarov], and you’re sitting on the bench while the coach is playing those other guys instead of you, you’re saying ’what’s he doing?’…They’re right too, why don’t I just put the veteran guys out? Because [the kids] have to learn. We had an opportunity here in a big game, and we gave them that opportunity.
On a possible playoff race:
We’re three points behind where we need to be. So we gotta find a way to get more than six points in every five game segment. We’re just going to try to get better every day.
On the outdoor games and their future in the NHL:
I thought it was awesome. I hear all the time that there’s too many outdoor games – well ask the players. They want to be in them, they love them. I’ve been in three; they’re one of the greatest gifts you can give your family…The whole event for our team was spectacular.
On the close-knit group in the Leafs’ dressing room:
Part of it is because they’re all just such little kids…They’re going to grow up here together. If you’re a guy like [Morgan Rielly], you arrive here and everybody’s leaving all the time. These guys aren’t leaving, they’re staying.