TORONTO — Embarrassed and desperate after getting steamrolled by the Boston Bruins through six ugly playoff periods, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a point to prove Monday.
His name sitting comfortably at the top of that list, Auston Matthews responded in a big way.
The centre scored the go-ahead goal in the second period as the Leafs picked up a 4-2 victory to cut the Bruins' lead in their first-round series to 2-1.
Toronto was reeling in the wake of 5-1 and 7-3 losses, but got back to using its speed on home ice.
"I don't think any of us felt we played how we're capable," Matthews said. "Tonight definitely was a statement game."
Matthews was fiery after Saturday's blowout, responding to a question about how Boston's top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron could have an astounding 20 points in two games compared to his trio's goose egg with: "(expletive) happens."
The raw emotion that comes with being a young star came out a different way Monday after he took a feed from William Nylander down low at 5:13 of the second and zipped a laser-focused snapshot shortside on Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask to send Air Canada Centre into a frenzy.
"It just feels like an earthquake in your feet when you score, especially in playoffs," Matthews said. "It's definitely emotional."
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said he hopes the goal takes a weight off the 20-year-old's shoulders.
"When you're my age, social media doesn't really affect your life," said Babcock. "When you're his age it affects your life. You know what people are saying."
Patrick Marleau, with two, and James van Riemsdyk also scored for Toronto, while Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly added two assists each.
Frederik Andersen made 40 saves for the Leafs, who will look to even the Eastern Conference quarterfinal Thursday in Game 4.
Adam McQuaid and Zdeno Chara replied for Boston. Sean Kuraly had two assists for the Bruins, who got 26 stops from Rask.
"First couple games we had a couple bounces go our way, tonight we didn't," Marchand said. "That's hockey."
Pastrnak (four goals, five assists), Marchand (one goal, five assists) and Bergeron (five assists) had their way with Toronto through the first two games, but the Leafs held Boston's big line at bay thanks in large part to Marner, Marleau and Tomas Plekanec.
"We stuck to our game plan," Marner said. "We got the puck in our hands quickly. We used our speed."
The Bruins' power play — a ridiculous 5 for 10 in the series coming in — got its first opportunity early in the third only to see Pastrnak hit the post.
The Leafs sealed it with 3:35 left when Marleau scored his second of the night on a 2-on-1 rush for the 70th playoff goal of the veteran winger's career.
"We were on it all game," Marleau said. "We had our legs, we were playing the right way."
Pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in the first period of Game 2, Andersen then robbed Pastrnak with a jaw-dropping diving stick save with Rask on the bench for an extra attacker with just over two minutes to go.
"One of the best saves I've ever seen," Matthews said. "That was unbelievable."
Toronto led 1-0 after the first, but Boston tied things at 3:06 of the second when McQuaid's shot from the point squeezed under Andersen's pad.
The Leafs went back ahead 43 seconds later when Marner fed Marleau, but the Bruins responded again on another goal Andersen will want back when Chara rifled a shot off his mask and in from an impossible angle at 6:19.
"Didn't know he had that type of shot in him," Andersen said.
Toronto's Kasperi Kapanen, who hit the post early in Game 2, found iron again later in the period, but Matthews would make no mistake later in the period.
The Leafs had a number of chances early as they returned to a boisterous home crowd before a controversial sequence led to the opening goal.
Boston was left fuming after centre Riley Nash was ruled to have put fired the puck directly over the glass for a delay of game penalty with just over three minutes left in the first, even though television replays suggested otherwise.
Toronto, which was 1 for 7 with the man advantage through the first two games, made the Bruins pay just seven seconds later when van Riemsdyk scored his second goal of the series to give the Leafs their first lead.
"Everybody knows (at) playoff time how we need to play to be successful," Marleau said. "We knew we didn't have our best in Boston, and that had to change tonight."
Notes: Marleau's first goal moved him past Gordie Howe and into 17th place on the NHL's all-time playoff list. ... Toronto winger Andreas Johnsson left the game in the third favouring his left leg. ... Leafs centre Nazem Kadri sat out the second game of his three-game suspension. ... Toronto winger Leo Komarov was sidelined with a lower-body injury.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
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