Auston Matthews said he believes the Toronto Maple Leafs will improve and move forward this season following their seven-game loss to the rival Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup First Round last season.
“It’s obviously really frustrating,” the Maple Leafs center told ESPN on Thursday. “It [stinks] right now. People have opinions and they can say what they want, and rightfully so, but I really believe in the team and I really believe in all of the players on the team — the core group especially.
“I truly believe that we’re going to get it done. We’re going to be better from our losses, and from the adversity that we faced.”
Toronto (35-14-7) finished first in the seven-team Scotia North Division last season and had a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series before losing to Montreal. It was the fifth consecutive season the Maple Leafs qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs but did not get past the opening round. Toronto has not advanced to the second round since 2004.
Matthews led the NHL with 41 goals during the regular season and was tied for fifth with 66 points in 52 games. Linemate Mitchell Marner was fourth with 67 points (20 goals, 47 assists) in 55 games. But the two combined to score one goal in the series against the Canadiens.
Maple Leafs captain John Tavares sustained a concussion and knee injury in Game 1, sidelining the center for the rest of the series. Toronto also played Game 7 without defenseman Jake Muzzin, who sustained a lower-body injury in Game 6.
“Extremely disappointing,” Matthews said. “But it’ll just feel that much better when we eventually get to the top.”
Toronto will attempt to do that with several new payers, including goalie Petr Mrazek and forwards Nick Ritchie, David Kampf, Ondrej Kase and Michael Bunting, each added in free agency. Goalie Frederik Andersen (Carolina Hurricanes), forwards Zach Hyman (Edmonton Oilers), Joe Thornton (Florida Panthers) and Nick Foligno (Boston Bruins), and defenseman Zach Bogosian (Tampa Bay Lightning) each left in free agency.
Toronto will depend on its core of Matthews, Marner, Tavares, forward William Nylander and defenseman Morgan Rielly to turn the page this season. General manager Kyle Dubas said he would “bet everything” Toronto will find a way to win the Stanley Cup.
“I don’t think that’s news to us,” Matthews said. “We know that’s how he feels. When he reiterates that, it gives us confidence moving forward. That’s all you can ask for, that your general manager and all your teammates truly believe in one another.”
Matthews is expected to miss the start of training camp after having wrist surgery Aug. 13. He will be out a minimum of six weeks.
The Maple Leafs’ first preseason game is Sept. 25 at home against the Canadiens. Toronto opens the regular season by hosting Montreal on Oct. 13.