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Date & time Oct 13
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rookies continue to astound

Zach Hyman stood almost alone in the centre of the Maple Leafs dressing room, with a crowd around Nazem Kadri, the crowd around Auston Matthews having just subsided, and a smile that wouldn leave his face.

Hyman doesn draw many crowds. It not who he is, how he plays, or what he does. The crowds he draws are on the ice, in the corners scrapping, always scrapping. But on this magical night of Maple Leafs playoff hockey still incredible to say playoffs all by itself let alone anything else his leg felt different.

The buzzing was coming from his pocket. Bzzzzz. Bzzz. Again and again. The ring was turned off. The buzzing was the sound of acceptance on his greatest NHL night.

This was after the Leafs overtime victory, the second in row over the Washington Capitals, the third overtime game in an historical three games of this playoff series. This was after Hyman, maybe the most criticized of the Leafs outside their dressing room how can you play him with Auston Matthews, his critics ask almost daily? began the play that tied the game for the Leafs with less than a minute left in the second period.

Those last minute goals are forever killers in any period.

Hyman went after the puck on a dump in, had Brooks Orpik on one side of him, Kevin Shattenkirk on the other, and somehow beat both of them, tied up two men, left the puck for Matthews, who quickly fed William Nylander, and the score was tied 3 3.

This, after the Leafs trailed 2 0 early in the first period.

And trailed 3 1 in the second period.

And faced a 5 on 3 two minute disadvantage they somehow killed.

And a penalty that came right after the 5 on 3.

And then Hyman did more of the dirty work that has so endeared him to his coach Mike Babcock. In the final minute of a third period headed for overtime, he went hard with Lars Eller on a loose puck behind the Leafs net. Eller clipped him with his stick. With Eller in the penalty box for high sticking in overtime, Tyler Bozak scored on the penalty taken against Hyman, the rookie, who plays with the rookie Matthews, who plays with the rookie Nylander. The only rookie line in the Stanley Cup playoffs, maybe the NHL. The only rookie line Babcock has ever coached.

In Detroit, he rarely had any rookies. Same in Anaheim: Now he has seven of them, three of them playing together: Matthews, the slam dunk Calder Trophy winner, playing beside Hyman, the Forest Hill kid from the GTHL, all season long together. The right winger is the sharp shooting Nylander.

In Babcock mind, Matthews has grown as the playoffs have grown. He was better in Game 3 than he was in Game 2. Nylander best game was Game 3. And Hyman? the same every night, said Babcock.

Only this wasn the same. This was his first Stanley Cup point, his first time being a difference maker against the best team in hockey. Matthews scored his first of many Stanley Cup goals and probably could have had two more. Nylander scored his first playoff goal. One kid from Toronto. One kid from Arizona. One kid from Sweden and Calgary.

The Leafs have had kid lines before, but really none like one. The original Kid Line, in the vintage alhambra necklace fake 1930s, had Charlie Conacher playing with Busher Jackson and Joe Primeau. Conacher was 19, Jackson was 18 and Primeau was 23 when they first started playing together in 1929. Wendel Clark was 18 when he first started playing on the Hound Line with 20 year old Russ Courtnall and van cleef turquoise necklace imitation 21 year old Gary Leeman. But they weren all rookies at the same time.

Matthews is 19. Nylander turns 21 next month. Hyman is the old man, but still a rookie, at 24.

Matthews ploughed his way, fullback like, almost single handedly to score Toronto first goal after Washington took a 2 0 lead and the Leafs were playing loosely. His first goal changed the team. Hits by Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov, two penalty kills and Hyman drive on the puck tied the game. Bozak took an overtime pass from Kadri to score at 1:37 of the first overtime period, the penalty taken against Hyman about to expire.

This is what great teams and great lines do. They complement each other. Phil Esposito played with Ken Hodge and Wayne Cashman. Cashman was Hyman, only tougher, meaner, and with a touch better hands. Matthews is an Esposito with more speed, more variations to his game. Nylander has a Hodge like shot, not necessarily the physical presence, but more speed and rhythm in his arsenal.

The best lines have that kind of division of skills.

Babcock knew he wanted to start the season with Kadri playing with Komarov and Bozak playing with James van Riemsdyk. Then he had to figure out who to play with Matthews. It wasn his intention to play three rookies together. He just ran out of candidates.

Three games in, three overtime games, and almost nothing separates the Maple Leafs and the Capitals except a power play goal by Tyler Bozak in the second minute of overtime, giving Toronto a 4 3 win and a 2 1 lead in the best of seven series.

The overtime goal came from a veteran. Just about everything else the Leafs accomplished came from their amazing group of kids. They just keep battling, keep making a difference. Every game. Every night.

With Washington, if the 29 year old Nick Backstrom isn making plays, or the 31 year old Alexander necklace van cleef copy Ovechkin isn one timing the puck or 24 year old Evgeny Kuznetzov isn doing the electrifying, not much else is happening for the Capitals.

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