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Pressure building on Maple Leafs star Marner amid quiet start to series


The outside pressure is turning up for Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner ahead of Game 3 against the Boston Bruins.

Despite the Maple Leafs heading home with a 1-1 tie in their first-round series with the Bruins, attention is being paid to Marner’s quiet start to the postseason.

The 26-year-old is without a point and a minus-1 through two games after logging over 20 minutes in both contests. 

Marner, with his face removed, was featured on the cover of the Toronto Sun Wednesday with the accompanying title "The Invisible Leaf." Columnist Steve Simmons wrote "It’s time now for him to embrace the pain and be the player he knows he can be."

Marner, who missed time late in the regular season with an ankle injury, finished with 26 goals and 85 points in 69 games, topping the point-per-game mark for the sixth straight season.

For Marner and the Maple Leafs, though, playoff success has been limited. The Markham, Ont. native had three goals and 14 points in 11 playoff games last season as the Maple Leafs advanced past the first round for the first time since 2004. However, Simmons points out that Marner has just one even-strength point over his past eight playoff games dating back to last spring and one goal in his past 11. He was held a without a point in three of five games against the Florida Panthers last May was the Maple Leafs were quickly eliminated in the second round.

Since making his playoff debut with Toronto in 2017, Marner has 10 goals, 47 points and is plus-8 in 52 games. He finished above a point-per-game pace in each of the past two postseasons. 

With outside noise building, head coach Sheldon Keefe praised Marner's play after a 3-2 win in Game 2 on Monday night. 

“I thought this is a night here where Mitch Marner, I thought he’s all over the game, too,” Keefe said. “He’s making plays offensively for us at different times. Great defensive plays. He’s playing almost every shift against Pastrnak and doing a really good job helping us there (and on the) penalty kill.”

While he has seen time with Auston Matthews, Marner has spent the majority of his shifts on a line with John Tavares and Matthew Knies against the Bruins. The three have struggled to find offensive chances, but Keefe said Tuesday he's been content with their effort.

"I have no issues with that line. They are doing a good job," Keefe told reporters on the team's off day. "I watched a bunch of forechecks this morning. Those guys are really working, competing, and creating a lot of pressure up ice, which is allowing them to spend less time in our end. I like a lot about what that group is doing.

"Even last night, Mitch didn’t get on the sheet, but he made a few plays at different times to advance the puck and get us out of trouble. That is important. With the way the matchups roll right now, those guys are taking on some tough responsibility playing against Pastrnak. They have done a really good job of it.

"We made one mistake on the faceoff last night, but aside from that, through two games, I like what we have gotten from that line. Each line is not going to roll every single night offensively. Their time will come in the series, but I have liked what they have done here defensively. They are a big part of last night’s win."

With Tavares signed at an $11 million cap hit and Marner just behind at $10.9 million, the two account for the highest combined salary of any two linemates in the postseason. Both Tavares, who scored in Game 2 for the Maple Leafs, and Marner will be eligible for extensions on July 1 as they enter the final season of their deals.