In a must-win Game 3 against the Florida Panthers on Sunday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs absolutely needed their best players to show up — and, in a trend that has become all too familiar in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were nowhere to be found.
The two highest paid players on the Leafs were a combined minus-2, throwing just four shots at the net between the two of them and failing to record even a single point as Florida put Toronto on the ropes with a 3-2 overtime win at FLA Live Arena.
The Panthers seem to be peaking at the perfect time, winning six games in a row for the first time in their postseason history and waking up on Monday morning a single win away from their first trip to the Eastern Conference Final since 1996.
But the story north in Canada is that of the Maple Leafs’ superstars, who time and time again have been unable to come through when the team needs it most.
Game 3 was as close to a must win as you can possibly get without facing down an elimination game — and Toronto will now have to do just that on the road in Game 4 on Wednesday.
It would take a miracle for the Leafs to win four straight and advance to their first final four since 2004, especially against a Panthers team that has matched them stride for stride in the first three contests.
In usual Twitter fashion on Sunday night, Leafs’ Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were absolutely lambasted for their dismal Game 3 performance:
based on the context of the situation this might be the worst game of matthews’ and marner’s career
— dom (@domluszczyszyn) May 8, 2023
Matthews and Marner are getting lapped by Kampf and Lafferty. Embarrassing effort so far for the 2 franchise players in a must win game.
— Bryan Hayes (@HayesTSN) May 8, 2023
It’s hard to win a series when you’re down players like Samsonov and Knies and Matthews and Marner.
— Active Stick (@TheOakLeafs) May 8, 2023
I really hope Nylander doesn’t have to take the fall for Matthews and Marner being pathetic excuses for hockey players.
— A (@_marlanderthews) May 8, 2023
I was all for arguing “best player” status. This playoffs has stopped that. Matthews and Marner are no where near the level of McDavid and Drai. Not even close.
— Leafs’ Guy (@LeafsGuy7) May 8, 2023
Matthews and Marner have been so unremarkable in this series and I don’t care about the xG. I don’t care at all. They’re making some tyke mistakes with the puck in dangerous situations and they aren’t producing anything offensively. Liability
— simple jake (@jakebeleafs) May 7, 2023
Playing in a media frenzied market like Toronto cannot be easy for the team’s highest paid stars, but the fact remains: the team needs much more out of a duo who are making a combined $22.6 million in 2022-23.
The Leafs will try to avoid the sweep in Game 4 at FLA Live Arena on Wednesday night.
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