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Maple Leafs’ stars come out to dance, delivering win over old nemesis

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TORONTO – Things are starting to feel a little more normal again, aren’t they?

Auston Matthews is pounding pucks past helpless padded men, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ $44.5-million power play is cashing in, and — for the first time in the Sheldon Keefe era — the Boston Bruins rolled into town.

Yes, a buzzing barn, a rekindled rival the Leafs hadn’t faced in nearly two full years, and the stars came out to dance on a Saturday night.

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The Maple Leafs pushed their win streak to five with a 5-2 come-from-behind victory over their nemesis in what was arguably the home side’s most engaged and most entertaining effort of this young campaign.

Not unlike Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay, the Leafs dug themselves a hole early. But unlike that night, their response was swift and dangerous.

With Jake Muzzin in the box for a delay-of-game penalty, Taylor Hall — Boston’s new net-front power-play man — tipped a Patrice Bergeron shot in tight to get the Bruins on the scoreboard before the nine-minute mark.

John Tavares struck back for the Leafs and tied the contest not four minutes later by driving the net himself and getting a piece of a Mitch Marner shot as the net got knocked off its moorings.

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Period 2 belonged to Matthews and the Leafs’ much-maligned power play.

Within a four-minute span, Matthews found gold twice on the man-advantage, the sniper and the 5-on-4 unit coming alive at once.

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First, Matthews took a feed from Mitch Marner on a speedy entry and flipped a backhander past Linus Ullmark in tight.

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Then he blasted a one-timer short-side off a point pass from Morgan Rielly, registering his third consecutive multi-point night.

Tavares joined Matthews in the Two-Goal Night Club early in the third, rendering a late goal by David Pastrnak moot.

The Maple Leafs are playing their best hockey, led by their best players, benefiting from their biggest crowd (19,077) of the year.

Rolling in the regular-season — feels normal again.

This is what the formula looks like when the main ingredients are fresh.

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Toronto will go for a sixth consecutive victory Monday when the L.A. Kings arrive in town.

Stream the Leafs this season with new pricing options! SN NOW STANDARD and PREMIUM let you choose how much hockey you want to watch.

Fox’s Fast 5

• Keefe says the onus is on Justin Holl to not get discouraged after being healthy-scratched for a fourth consecutive game.

“He’s in control of how he handles this,” the coach said, after speaking with the D-man Saturday morning. “We didn’t intend on him sitting this long, frankly, but that’s just the way it’s gone. The others have played well; the team has played well and had success. It’s on him to stay engaged, continue to work and make sure when his opportunity comes, he’s ready to go.”

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• Michael Bunting leads all Leafs with six drawn penalties.

• Rare sighting: With the Bruins sporting their black third jerseys with the big unspoked B, the Leafs rocked home whites for the first time in a long time.

• Why did Tavares’ goal count despite being fired into a dislodged net?

Per Rule 63.7, referee Ian Walsh determined Bergeron, the defending player, caused the net to be displaced prior to the puck crossing the line and that had the net been in place, the puck would have went in.

• Travis Dermott on former Erie Otters teammate Connor McDavid’s Goal of the Year frontrunner: “It was getting pushed all over the place, so the second I turned on my phone, it was right up there. Beautiful goal. When you see that, it reminds me of all the times I played with him and he burned me like that in practice.”





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College basketball national player of the year watch: Edey, Wilson lead the way

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Zach Edey leads the way for national player of the year honors, while Jalen Wilson is making a case. Here’s a look at the candidates.



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How Eagles offensive line spurred Jalen Hurts’ development

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Jalen Hurts has blossomed into a complete quarterback this season in large part because of the brick wall in front of him.



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Flames looking to build on intense clash vs. Rangers with playoff spot on the line

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NEW YORK – The hockey world got a shot in the arm Monday, bursting out of the All-Star break with what many considered the best game of the season.

Comebacks, huge hits, fights, goals and overtime dramatics dotted the New York Rangers’ 5-4 overtime win over Calgary to the delight of an amped-up crowd at Madison Square Garden.

All of those entertaining ingredients were products of something the league so sorely lacks most of the regular season: intensity.

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It was only last month Flames coach Darryl Sutter said rather matter-of-factly that regular-season games rarely feature the intensity that shows up every spring, making the Stanley Cup playoffs so impossible to ignore.

Fact is, in an 82-game schedule, it’d be a dangerous game to play with the sort of passion and physicality Monday’s game exhibited.

“You’d be dead,” said Flames winger Milan Lucic with a laugh after a rare practice at MSG Tuesday morning, wide-eyed just talking about the evening.

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“You can see why they play once a week in football.

“You can’t do that 82 nights a year, but your mindset has to be that you want to do it, and have to do it, every night you go out there.

“There are games where you say, ‘This doesn’t mean anything,’ but then something happens and it turns into something bigger.

“There’s things that spark it.”

So, how did it escalate into a wildly entertaining game that had the players’ phones blowing up like a Jacob Trouba bodycheck?

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It started with the setting.

“All these Original Six places are such great places to play,” said Lucic.

“Even during the anthem, whenever there’s a little pause, they scream, ‘Let’s Go Rangers’ – it’s one of their trademarks.

“They still whistle, ‘Potvin Sucks.’

“It’s cool.

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“It’s what playing in the NHL is all about and what you think it’s going to be. When you’re a kid dreaming of playing on the big stage, that’s exactly what you’re thinking about.

“Having that atmosphere from them also helps create the emotion and energy on the ice as well.

“People out west don’t really understand the East Coast cheering hostility.

“It is a hostile environment – they don’t just let you walk in with another team’s jersey on and ask, ‘Oh, hey, how are you doing? Where are you from?’

“It’s not welcoming.”

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Setting off the crowd, and both teams, were the hits, sparking the emotion.

An early hit from Nazem Kadri on Trouba certainly set the tone, as the Rangers captain later responded with big blasts on Dillon Dube and Kadri.

Cue the fireworks, which had the Flames players buzzing afterward about the character in their room and respect for one another that served as a galvanizing evening for a team in search of something to rally around.

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“I loved it and told him I would have done the same thing for him,” said Kadri, when asked about Dube immediately dropping the gloves with towering Trouba for his first NHL fight.

“He’s not a guy who is expected to fight, so that’s always something I respect – he’s certainly earned my respect.

“I’ll have to buy him some dinner or something.”

As Dube walked around Tuesday pretending to have his chest all puffed out, Kadri laughed.

“I think he had a little scratch on his finger too, so ask him about that,” Kadri said.

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MacKenzie Weeger also stepped up to respond to a sizable Sammy Blais hit on Lucic, immediately laying a left-handed beatdown on Will Cuylle.

Chris Tanev kickstarted the fight card, earning kudos for fighting Trouba in his return to the lineup.

“Every team wants to win, but what are you willing to do to win?” said Lucic of the lads backing one another up.

“Yeah, the crowd was great, but if we’re just out there playing shinny, then it ends up being another Monday night.

“They do their part, and we do our part, and it ends up being a game talked about.

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“If you can recall five games in the last couple years, which ones do you remember?

“You remember this one, Nashville (an OT thriller with plenty of fights late last year), the 9-6 playoff game against Edmonton, the goalies fighting.

“You remember those because all the ingredients of intensity go into it.”

With 31 games to go, the Flames are in a scary spot with the West’s final wild-card berth.

Against the Rangers, they bounced back three times from one-goal deficits, got some timely saves from Jacob Markstrom late in the game and traded punches – literally and figuratively – with one of the east’s more talented teams.

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On their turf.

They dropped the overtime point, but added a bounce to their step moving forward.

Was it a coincidence their inspirational showing came the first game out of the final break?

“It was a coincidence, but I also think it’s a bit of a blessing because it gets you ready for what to expect night in and night out,” said Lucic.

“Every game is going to be like a playoff game for us.

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“When the intensity and all that type of stuff goes up, I think it shows the true character of your team and what you’re made of.

“For the teams that do get the opportunity for the playoffs, it’s those learning experiences throughout the season that you do fall back on.”

The question now for the Flames is, can they replicate that desperation, emotion and intensity in Motown Thursday night against the type of bottom-feeder Sutter’s bunch has struggled against this season?

Stay tuned.

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